Frater Anish Shroff
This story originally appeared in the winter 2015 edition of THE TEKE.
IT’S COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME DAY for Anish Shroff and his alma mater, Syracuse University. As a proud alumnus, Anish arrives at the 49,000-plus capacity Carrier Dome—the site of today's matchup against the University of Pittsburgh—several hours early. He walks the field and takes meticulous notes in preparation for kickoff. It’s not often he has this amount of access; today just happens to be a special occasion.
Events for homecoming over the past several days have given the campus new life. There’s a feeling of excitement in the air, like their Orangemen, who are 3–3 nearing the midway point of the season, can get them a win against the 25th-ranked Panthers.
It’s fitting Anish finds himself in Syracuse for the game. Usually he’s booked on Saturdays throughout the fall, traveling to college and university campuses for work. But this week, he was given the opportunity to reminisce on his time as a student on campus.
Unlike the sea of orange that will fill the stands in a few hours, Anish consciously decides to forgo wearing his school’s colors. He is here for work, so he opts to dress up. A light gray three-piece pinstriped suit with a thick-striped navy tie and matching pocket square appropriately serve as today's attire.
As students and alumni and college football enthusiasts make their way to their seats for the noon Eastern kickoff, Anish takes his place in one of the best seats in the house. He has an unobstructed view of the whole field and a couple TVs nearby for a closer look at today's action. He's sitting next to Ahmad Brooks, former University of Texas football captain and short-term cornerback for the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints. The two talk in detail about the matchup. They discuss history between the programs (Pitt leads the rivalry with a 36–31–3 record) and Pitt’s strong season up to that point (their only loss to undefeated Iowa by a field goal).
As kickoff draws closer, now only minutes away, Anish and Ahmad take a final view at their scribbles on assorted papers. They’re ready to clock in for their work day.
Hundreds of miles away in Charlotte, North Carolina, anchors on the set of ESPNU’s college game day program prepare to send viewers to Syracuse, New York, for the Atlantic Coast Conference matchup. After fading from a recap of the Michigan-Michigan State thriller the week prior, the Allstate College Saturday kickoff graphic appears on screen.
Clips of players from Pittsburgh and Syracuse taking the field are accompanied by Anish Shroff ’s commentary.
“Today, the Panthers turn their focus to the Orange of Syracuse,” Anish says, then pausing to build anticipation for his next energy-driven one-liner. “It’s Pitt and ’Cuse from the Carrier Dome!”
For the next four minutes, Anish and Ahmad provide insight to the upcoming match and share a screen with images of players loosening up and a less-than-impressive student turnout, which Anish makes note of.
Moments later, Syracuse kicks off. Anish is ready to take the next three hours a play at a time, just like he’s done his whole life.
Frater Anish Shroff knew what he wanted to do after graduation from Syracuse University, but he wasn’t sure which medium best suited him. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in broadcast journalism and knew he wanted to incorporate sports—whether it was basketball, football, lacrosse or any other athletic avenue, it didn’t matter—he just wanted to be around the action.
At a local radio station at Syracuse, Anish landed a co-host position on a talk show. He did updates throughout the week and was in the mix of the sports talk action. It was a great job, he recalls, but it was short-lived.
While on a visit to Massachusetts, Anish heard ESPN was holding auditions for the second season of “Dream Job,” an interview-turned-gameshow hiring process to find the next anchor for ESPN’s premier program “SportsCenter.”
“I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” Anish recalls, reliving
the excitement of the moment in 2005. “I auditioned on the first day and it went pretty well. The next day I went back and did a follow-up assignment. When I was done, they told me I would get a call if I advanced.” The next month, Anish got the call. He was a finalist, and he would need to travel to New York if he wanted to take the next step toward being on the show as a top 12 contestant.
Eager to make an impression and make it to the next round, Anish says he knew how to catch the judges’ attention: he needed to stand out, and that’s exactly what he did.
“To me, SportsCenter appeared to be a show where every-one had a lot of fun,” he says. “It reminded me of my time as an undergraduate at the Iota-Zeta chapter at Syracuse. So, touching on my experiences and throwing in some self-deprecating humor, I incorporated a risky style into my show to prove that I could have a little fun.”
Anish’s efforts were well noticed. He was called back the next day for a chance to make it to the final round.
“I went in on the final day and there were maybe 30 people, and Stuart Scott was up on the podium,” Anish explains. “If he called your name, you made it to the final round.” In what could have turned out to be a climactic sequence of events of Anish waiting for each name to be called to be his, only to take the final spot on the roster, the story doesn’t go that way. “The second name he called was mine. I’m starting to think, ‘Okay, I have a chance to write my ticket.’”
During the first week on the show, Anish avoids any major slip-ups and solidifies himself as a serious contender to survive the week-by-week elimination style interview. “I was confident after the first week,” he says with slight laugher. “But then I came back in the third week after a couple days off and I got knocked down.”
A less-than-stellar interview with Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher José Lima led Woody Paige and Stephen A. Smith—notables on the ESPN network—to point out Anish’s lackluster performance. Fortunately for Anish, his stumble was overshadowed by failed performances by other participants. Anish survives and makes his way to the final three.
“When I got to that point, I started to get nervous,” Anish says plainly. “I’m thinking, ‘What if I win?’ While it sounds defeatist and doesn’t reek of self-confidence, I was worried if I was ready for that gig.”
Anish, only 22 at the time of the show’s recording, had a point. He was young, and he didn’t have a lot of professional experience beyond his stint at the Syracuse radio station. And while his commentary accompanied pickup games with friends when he was younger, it didn’t necessarily translate to sitting behind ‘the desk’ of SportsCenter.
“Having said that, I still wanted to win,” Anish says, dismissing any notions that he didn’t give 100 percent in the final round.
It didn’t matter in the end. A misinterpreted assignment knocked Anish down, placing him on the chopping block with another contestant/interviewee. A parade of critiques by the judges prefaced a split decision of 2–3 that sent Anish to pack his bags. His dream job was fading. It was time to wake up.
“A LOT OF MY FRIENDS and family were disappointed when I was cut from the show,” Anish explains. If anything, Anish says he was perhaps the least disappointed. He took the loss in stride and made the most of the situation. “I figured everything happens for a reason. I got some really good exposure and was able to really start my career.”
He was optimistic, and he was right: the exposure he received earned him his first position on television as a freelance anchor with College Sports TV—now CBS Sports—in New York. While Anish admits he was grateful for the opportunity, he says he still didn’t feel ready; he needed to gain more experience.
Not long after joining College Sports TV, Anish left and made the move to Yakima, Washington, to take on a position as the sports director at KNDO-TV. A lot of his friends questioned his decision to leave. He would have to move across the country, work in a low-visibility station in a small market, and on top of every-thing else, live on a tight salary. In a two-year contract, he was set to make $18,000 in the first year and $20,000 in the second. Anish, however, negotiated his way to a $20,000 starting pay, which was still nothing to boast about. But it was never about the money. Anish was chasing a dream, and this was his chance to pay his dues.
Once Anish arrived, he learned he would be more than just the sports director. “My job was to anchor the 5 and 6 p.m. sports segment. I also went out in the field and reported, shot all my own footage, edited my own tapes, cut my own highlights, wrote my own scripts and produced my own segments. I basically did everything,” he concedes.
Despite the long days and overwhelming responsibility, Anish admits it was one of the most valuable experiences of his life. He was given the ability to experiment and perfect his craft, something he would have never had if he stayed in New York.
As Anish began to adapt to his new life in Yakima, he admits he stayed in contact with people he had met during his interview process for anchor of SportsCenter. One such individual was Al Jaffe, a judge on all three seasons of “Dream Job” and ESPN’s vice president of talent from 1996 to January of 2015. The feedback Al was able to provide allowed Anish to further develop his abilities and gain more confidence, and perhaps most important, keep Anish’s name fresh in the mind of the man who was in charge of hiring for ESPN.
Two years pass by and Anish has made a name for himself covering local sports teams and the occasional big story, namely Heisman Trophy candidate Kellan Moore of Boise State. Everything was going great, until it wasn’t.
The position Anish held with KNDO-TV was being cut, and he was forced to scramble. He sent out a flurry of resumes and made his way as finalist for quite a few spots, but none of them panned out. Without anywhere to go, Anish moved to the news desk, but he continued to search for an opportunity to get back into sports.
Before long, an opportunity opened up with a sports documentary agency back in New York. It was time to go back East, but the excitement didn’t last.
“Once I was there, I immediately found out this was not what I signed up for,” Anish says. Poor management and a lack of direction forced Anish’s hand, and he needed to figure out his next steps to get his life back on track. The option of going to law school or getting an MBA were being considered, but another opportunity presented itself, taking him back to Syracuse. WSYR-TV, a station Anish had interned for as a student, took him on in the sports department.
Once settled back in Syracuse, Anish wrote to friends at ESPN to let them know he was back in Syracuse. “I wasn’t looking for a job—I just wanted their feedback on a couple clips I was doing at my new station.” Al Jaffe, however, wrote back that there were a couple openings in Bristol and that Anish should consider auditioning by sending a segment of his show in to the ESPN offices.
“The next day, I arrived at the station a full eight hours early,” Anish says. “I crafted every last word and made sure it was creative, entertaining and informative, and a representation of my best work.” As soon as the segment ended, Anish went to the control room, burned a copy of his program and prepared it for delivery.
Signed, sealed and FedEx’d, Anish waited for an answer. In the meantime, he’d have to work out his exit strategy for a station he had just started only a few months ago. Trusting that honesty was the best course of action, Anish told the station manager about the opportunity that was on the horizon. He received the go-ahead from his manager and was asked by ESPN to come in for an interview.
Anish, only a few years out of college, remembers thinking this was his chance to fulfill his dream. That was until the station man-ager changed his mind. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” he told Anish. “If I let you break your contract, then it would set a precedent. I can’t let you leave.”
Anish was floored, but he was prepared to buy out his contract if he needed to. He moved ahead with the interview. A week later, Anish was offered the position. He accepted on the spot. The only thing standing in his way was a contract with his current station.
“My manager dodged me for days, so I knew I had to talk to him face-to-face,” Anish recalls. “When I got a chance to talk to him, I pleaded my case and asked what I needed to do.” Ultimately, the decision was made that Anish would need to finish out the calendar year, roughly three months, so the station could find a replacement.
On December 31, 2007, Anish anchored the 11 p.m. newscast in New York. With a majority of his things having already been sent to Bristol, Connecticut—the home of ESPN—Anish loaded up his ’98 Dodge Neon and made his way to his dream job at 2:30 in the morning on New Year’s Day.
BEFORE THERE WAS A DREAM JOB for Anish, there was his parents’ dream: a desire to succeed in a new country. Anish’s parents left their home country of India in the ’70s with nothing more than $6. They arrived in the United States with an opportunity to make a life for themselves.
Anish’s father, a professional photographer with a degree in accounting, exemplified the importance of doing what you loved. “He is a fascinating individual. He is a naturalized citizen with a thick Indian accent who is a diehard American,” Anish explains, laughing at the thought. “He only drives American cars, buys American-made products and is extremely patriotic. He always told me to do what I love.”
Where Anish’s father taught him how to follow his heart, it was his mother who taught him the importance of receiving a well-rounded education.
“I wouldn’t be where I am in life without my mother. She encouraged my creative side and taught me to write,” Anish remembers. “When I was young, I loved sports. That’s all I would read. After a while, my mom said, ‘Listen, I don’t mind that you read about sports, but for every sports book you read, you have to read a real book.’ ”
In charge of picking out the “real books” was Anish’s mother. Her selection of stories such as “Around the World in Eighty Days,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Wuthering Heights” came to be the cornerstone in Anish’s well-rounded, culturally-literate education. What inspired Anish’s mother to press the importance of education on her son was the life her father made for himself. Anish’s grandfather grew up poor in India, and against all odds of overcoming poverty, taught himself to read. From there, he went on to receive his education from Manchester and later opened his own textile factory in India. It’s a story of relentless drive that Anish has never for-gotten: “He used to have a saying, ‘People can always take things away from you in life, but the one thing they cannot take is your education.’ ”
Growing up, Anish’s passion for education paid dividends and allowed him to tour a number of prestigious colleges and universities throughout the Northeast in hopes of attending after graduation from high school. One such tour foreshadowed Anish’s ultimate career.
“We were on a tour at Boston University,” Anish recalls. “And me being the big sports fan, I wanted to take a tour of Fenway Park. We get to the press box, and as I sit down, I have a picture in my mind of me calling the game. It was a powerful memory. Well, once we leave the stadium, my mom stops me in the parking lot and says, ‘You’re going to be doing this some- day.’ That’s when I knew.”
Less than a year after the tour to Boston, Anish’s mother passed.
Two short years later, as a sophomore at Syracuse, Anish was preparing to call his first game, a lacrosse matchup between his Orangemen and the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. At that moment, it came full circle for Anish. “I thought of her. She got me here. She was the one person who believed in me before I believed in myself.” IT’S BEEN A DECADE since An-ish left Syracuse as a graduate. And despite his travels, experiences and interviews with up-and-coming and world-class athletes, Anish has never forgotten the Iota-Zeta chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon.
As a freshman, Anish admits he was hesitant to join a fraternity. His friends, however, did have an interest to join, but they didn’t want to join just any organization—they wanted to create something for themselves. Their opportunity came in the form of the recolonization of the Iota-Zeta chapter.
Anish followed his friends and became a founding father of the chapter. They gained the opportunity to build something from the ground up. By the time he left, the chapter was a sizable brotherhood on campus. They acquired a chapter house and were heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, the chapter was unable to uphold the better practices that Anish and his co-founding fathers had emphasized while he was a student. As a result, the Iota-Zeta chapter was closed this past spring.
The fraternity experience Anish remembers to this day is one that is positive: “The one thing that I always appreciated during my time with the chapter was the amount of support the brothers gave to each other. When there were events I was involved with, the guys were always there to support me. They saw that I had a chance to do something special. The amount of encouragement I received from them on a consistent basis has always been special to me.”
More than anything, Anish clarifies, the support is mutual. “We’re all rooting for each other to succeed. We all share our triumphs.”
The mutual support shared by brothers of the Iota-Zeta chapter is a large reason why he remains involved, or at least as much as he can. With a profession that demands weekends and unusual hours, Anish says he is still active with the newsletters and email threads.
“The brotherhood still carries over from way back. Two of my chapter brothers were groomsmen in my wedding,” he says. “The stories we shared back then are a big part in my life today.”
“Looking back now, it was something special,” Anish says. “We were founding fathers of the Iota-Zeta chapter. I’m a first generation American. There’s a parallel between those two things, and I’m proud to have been a part of that experience.” WHEN ANISH WAS VOTED OFF from “Dream Job” all those years back, Stuart Scott, sportscaster and anchor for ESPN, left a 22-year-old kid from Syracuse with a memory he’d never forget. “When I stepped off the stage, Stuart Scott shook my hand and said, ‘I’ll see you in the business,’ ” Anish says, reflecting on the memory. “For a guy who was so established, so respected, to tell someone something like that, it was a meaningful experience.”
Stuart Scott, the iconic anchor who mashed hip-hop with unforgettable catch-phrases such as “Boo-Yah!” and “As cool as the other side of the pillow” on SportsCenter, ultimately lost his battle with cancer all those years later on January 4, 2014.
“He was a class act,” says Anish. “I just wish I would have told him what those words meant to me when he said, ‘I’ll see you in the business.’”
Today, Anish is squarely in the business. As an anchor and sportscaster for ESPN Networks, he continues to perfect his craft by learning from industry leaders such as Bob Costas, who Anish viewed as “an architect” who “brings a sense of worldliness” when watching Costas growing up. “If I could ever get to a point where I’m that quick on my feet,” says Anish of Costas, “then I know I’ll have a chance to really make it.”
Really, in so many ways, Anish has made it.
“I look at my story as inherently American,” Anish explains. “Yes, my parents weren’t born here, but they passed on something more meaningful. Building Tau Kappa Epsilon at Syracuse, not winning on ‘Dream Job,’ moving across the country to fulfill my dreams, that is what the American dream is all about.”
At that moment, it all makes sense. Anish’s journey has never been about his “Dream Job.” It was always about fulfilling the American dream.