No debate about it: Jemele Hill debuts as college football sideline reporter

Versatile Jemele Hill will be seen on ESPN and ESPN2 football telecasts this fall. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN)

Tonight, ESPN.com columnist and on-air contributor Jemele Hill will embark upon a new chapter in her professional career: She’s a sideline reporter for ESPN and ESPN2 Friday games with Carter Blackburn and Rod Gilmore.

She will debut in a big way on ESPN’s 8 p.m. ET Boise State at Michigan State telecast. Two days later, she will be on the sidelines for ESPN’s Sunday, Sept. 2, Kentucky at Louisville matchup at 3:30 p.m.

Her new role will reduce the frequency of her appearances on the First Take and Around the Horn sets where she injected a unique perspective on a variety of sports topics while going toe-to-toe with the likes of Skip Bayless and Woody Paige.

Still, she’s looking forward to taking up the microphone, lacing up her athletic footwear and chasing down coaches, players and team personnel all in the name of live sideline reporting.

What appealed to you about the sideline reporting opportunity?
I covered college football and basketball for basically the first decade of my career, including six years at Michigan State. As much as I love doing debate shows like Around the Horn and First Take, I missed covering live events, and routinely talking to coaches and players. This is my way of not only reconnecting with my roots, but trying to master a whole new medium.

How have you prepared for this new role? Anyone you look up to and why?
I feel like I’m back in school again. I considered myself a pretty knowledgeable college football fan, but the majority of teams that I’ll be covering this year are not teams that I normally pay rapt attention to. I’ve reading a lot of different college football blogs, reading a ton of different sports sections that cover these teams, DVR’ing games from last season and talking to sideline reporters. I had a great conversation with Lisa Salters — who gave me a great assist in getting this new role — and she gave a terrific list of things she wished she had known before she started sideline reporting.

As a Michigan State alum, what will it be like to be at your alma mater for your sideline debut?
It makes my debut memorable, but there is upside and downside to this being my first game. The upside is that I’m obviously familiar with the university and team. The downside is that even though I covered my alma mater as a print reporter, fans can’t help but expect you to be a little partial toward MSU. It definitely puts some added pressure on me to appear as impartial as possible. That’s not difficult, but when people know I went to MSU, I don’t want there to be an insinuation of bias.

You’ll have less than 48 hours between your first two games. What are your expectations for starting in East Lansing and finishing the weekend in Louisville?
They say during football season, the biggest improvement a team makes is from game 1 to game 2. I will have a little more than 24 hours to make my improvements. I actually think it’s a good thing. It allows me to make adjustments quickly and make immediate improvements.

What do you hope viewers get from your contributions? Will you be checking Twitter for their reactions?
I hope people will realize that I still plan to bring a combination of reporting and analysis. The great thing is that the college football people don’t want me to lose my columnist/opinion fastball. They want me to bring the same personality that folks see on First Take and other shows. I definitely plan to be very active on Twitter. I want to take people inside of what I’m experiencing.

Will this role result in less time with Skip Bayless?
Yes, which means fewer Tim Tebow discussions. Hmm, why didn’t I think of this sooner?