Take a stroll through any PKA house and there is a good chance you will find at least one television on ESPN at any time of day. That number increases significantly if it is time for a big college football game, basketball game, or Monday Night Football. SportsCenter, ESPNs award winning sports news program, may in fact be the most watched television show among Pi Kappa Alpha undergraduates (and probably alumni for that matter).
On the set of SportsCenter you will find our very own Scott Van Pelt (Maryland, Delta Psi 88) most evenings, primarily hosting the 11:00 p.m. ET edition. As well as being one of the top rated hosts of the sports worlds most popular show, Scott can also be seen hosting ESPNs coverage of golfs grand slam events. In April 2008, he was named co-host of ESPN Radios Tirico & Van Pelt Show and solo host of The Scott Van Pelt Show.
Brother Van Pelt was very gracious in granting the Shield & Diamond exclusive access to the ESPN studios for an interview and an all access tour of the ESPN campus. For a man who has Tiger Woods and Lebron James cell phone numbers readily accessible, it was easily apparent that Scott is an extremely humble individual who hasnt taken his successes for granted. An imposing figure at 6 6, he has an extremely quick wit, whether the discussion centers on ACC basketball or the awesomeness of Barry Melrose. His intellect is equally impressive as he is quick to weave in discussions on major current events in any conversation, and maintains a realistic perspective towards the role sports plays in society today.
Scotts sense of humor is always present, whether it is sharing classic stories involving some of the sports worlds most recognizable names or putting you in your place by referencing an obscure statistic about your little known Division IA or Division II alma mater.
In the following interview, Brother Van Pelt shares some of his thoughts on career success, SportsCenter commercials, the importance of working hard, and Pi Kappa Alpha. As you will read, Scott is quick to point out that some of his best friends in life today are those brothers from the Pika house back at the University of Maryland.
S&D: Scott, thanks for taking the time for Pi Kappa Alpha today.
SVP: Im happy to do it. Thanks for coming up for a visit. Its always great to talk about my Fraternity experience. Some of my best friends in the world are guys I met at the Pika house at Maryland. So ask me whatever you want. Lets have fun with this!
S&D: Weve seen you in over thirty SportsCenter commercials, Scott. Which one is your favorite?
SVP: Man, all of those SportsCenter commercials are fun. I think my favorite is probably the one that Rich Beem and I did in 2002 right after he won the PGA Championship. Beemer comes riding into the ESPN complex with his PGA Championship trophy in the passenger side. When he parks, he pops the trunk and I get out and thank him for giving me a ride to work. It was fun. But that was a BMW and it was tough for this 6 6 guy to get in that trunk. We did that scene nine times and ended up using the very first take. Its amazing how much people love these commercials. I did one with Carmelo Anthony where I dressed up in a Captain America costume and we could hardly shoot the commercial without Carmelo laughing at me in that ridiculous costume. I have come to realize the athletes enjoy the commercials just as much as the viewers. In fact, its almost become a rite of passage just to appear in one.
S&D: Im sure thats a great part of your job. How did you get into broadcast journalism?
SVP: I was doing an internship at Channel 5 in D.C. and I met a producer who ended up leaving to work at HBO. Well, a couple of years later he recruited me to come work at The Golf Channel. So I left D.C. and moved to Orlando. It was a great gig. I co-hosted Golf Central and while following the PGA, I was really able to get in the trenches and meet players, and learn a lot about the grind those players endure on the tour. It was a great time to be covering sports down there. I had the opportunity to cover the 1996 NCAA Championship and I met a freshman from Stanford named Tiger Woods. We developed a pretty good rapport, and the following year Tiger won the Masters and played the British Open for the first time and I was there covering those events for the Golf Channel. Weve just continued to foster that relationship to this day.
S&D: Tiger was probably a great athlete to meet early in your career.
SVP: Oh yeah. Absolutely. To be honest with you, I attribute my start at ESPN to having a connection to Tiger. In 2000, ESPNs Golf Analyst Jimmy Roberts left to work for another network and ESPN needed to replace him. If you recall, 2000 was an incredible year for Tiger Woods. He was in the middle of chasing down Ben Hogans record by winning three majors in a year. ESPN wanted to bring someone on board that could access Tiger Woods, and I was the guy. They called, I accepted, and here I am.
S&D: Now, some would say that you were pretty lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
SVP: True. And I have been very fortunate to have been given opportunities along the way. I actually had a conversation not too long ago with Lefty Driesell, the longtime mens basketball coach at the University of Maryland. I made a comment to Lefty about how lucky I was to have landed at ESPN, and Lefty responded that Scotty, if it were luck it would have run out by now. That made me realize that maybe I have started to figure this thing out a little bit. One thing that I have learned is that you should treat normal people like theyre famous and treat famous people like theyre normal. That seems to work well for me. I learned that from my father.
S&D: Have you had any outstanding role models over the years?
SVP: My father and my grandfather were the guys who fostered my love of sports. I looked up to those men. I tell people all the time that I work hard but it is not hard work. Its remarkable to me that I get to talk about sports every day for a living. Im basically doing something that I would probably be doing anyway. I just do it on television or on the radio and get paid to do it. Its really amazing. My father was a blue collar worker and he worked extremely hard. He passed away when I was in my twenties. Theres no way that I would ever disrespect his memory by saying that my job is hard. But I tell you guys, I would give up every cent Ive made doing this to be able to sit at the dinner table with him and my grandfather and thank them for fostering this love of sports, and for them to be able to see me doing my thing. I know theyd be proud of me. I have learned that you better appreciate the people in your life while theyre around. Spend time with those people that you love and dont miss the opportunity to get as much knowledge as you can from them.
S&D: What part of your job do you enjoy most?
SVP: Oh, that is a tough question. I enjoy all of it and Ill tell you why. I feel blessed to be doing it all and each phase of my job allows me to express myself in a different way. On TV, for example, Im doing highlights and have the opportunity to deliver the breaking news of the sports world to our viewers. But on radio, Im able to have a free flowing conversation and dive into topics a little deeper while sharing some of my own opinions on various topics. Thats fun for me. Of course, another exciting part of my job is being able to be on site at events and to interact with sports fans. I especially enjoy covering the golf majors. In February, Ill be down in Tampa covering the Super Bowl. I enjoy the interaction with the fans. So, all components of my job are enjoyable to me. I dont ever want to become complacent so Im just looking for the next challenge.
S&D: Lets back up to your undergraduate years at the University of Maryland. Tell us what attracted you to Pi Kappa Alpha ?
SVP: My story is probably similar to so many of our brothers. I had a very good friend from high school who was a member of Delta Psi Chapter and invited me to come over and visit the house. I found the guys at the chapter to be a very good, fun group of guys. This was an eclectic mix of people. We had guys from big cities and small towns. We had members from every religious background you can think of and we had members of different races. Pike, well we called it Pika, was a great group of men and I just tried to fit right in. Plus, I was a decent athlete and so that didnt hurt my chances of getting a bid either!
S&D: Did you hold officer positions in the chapter?
SVP: I was the rush chairman. It was very important to me. Rush is the lifeblood of our chapters and a very important deal. I have this belief that recruitment is like shaving. If you dont do it, you end up looking like a bum. So, I took it seriously and hope I was able to do a good job. One thing that I realized very quickly was that the Fraternity experience was much bigger than just the four years I spent at Maryland. We were recruiting guys to come in and perpetuate our chapters legacy. I also developed a philosophy about holding chapter office. Dont underestimate the importance of your leadership position, but please do not overestimate the importance of your position either. I think thats a valuable teaching tool. I was exposed to guys who got into leadership positions in the chapter and it corrupted them. They just became demonstrative people and thats totally unacceptable. It is what it is. Enjoy the ride and do the very best that you can do.
S&D: Did you play intramural sports?
SVP: You better believe it. Sports were a big deal to us at the Pike house. We were a group of highly competitive individuals and intramural sports were our outlet. We always competed very well against other fraternities and won the big sports like football and basketball. But we usually finished in second place overall because we didnt always participate in the other little sports. In my senior year at Maryland we got very organized and set a goal that we wanted to win the intramural sports championship. Sigma Chi had always won and we were determined to knock them off. You know what, we got ourselves organized, came together as a chapter and we won intramurals my senior year. That was an awesome experience. We rallied around each other for that common goal and that was a very special time for us.
S&D: Thats a great story!
SVP: It is. But I think the lesson there is that the Preamble makes perfect sense: For the mutual benefit and advancement of the interests of those with whom we sympathize and deem worthy of our regard We certainly could not have accomplished our goals as individuals. But as a cohesive unit with one common goal, we got the job done. I love the Preamble. Its good stuff.
S&D: What part of your Fraternity experience have you carried forward in your life?
SVP: The best part of the Fraternity experience for me has been that twenty years later, my best friends are still my Delta Psi Chapter brothers. Ill go back to the Preamble again and quote on a firmer and more lasting basis. Its real. I drop by the chapter house from time to time. The guys are in a different house now than the one I lived in. But I go by and visit with some of the guys and try to stress to them the importance of the Preamble. This is a lifelong commitment and I hope our brothers in the chapters today understand that.
S&D: Scott, thanks again for your hospitality.
SVP: Anytime guys. I have enjoyed this. This has been good for me. To be able to go back and remember so many special memories about my time in the chapter at Maryland has been humbling. It has reminded me of just how important the Fraternity is. Its very special and I appreciate you guys reaching out to me in this way.