Dick Ebersol's stunning resignation

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Dick Ebersol's abrupt resignation Thursday as head of NBC Sports is altogether unexpected and, frankly, not. It's also, for those of us who know him, respect him immensely, worked for him and with him, profoundly unsettling. Sad, even.

It raises a whole host of questions -- without immediate answers -- about the London 2012 Olympics, which NBC will televise, and beyond, whether NBC, now merged with Comcast, will aggressively bid for the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games.

The International Olympic Committee has said it will call American bidders here, to Lausanne, the IOC's headquarters, just 18 days from now, on June 6 and 7, for the 2014 and 2016 auction. The rights to the 2018 and 2020 Games might also be in play. Besides NBC, ESPN and Fox are expected to bid.

The announcement Thursday changes everything.

Or maybe not.

It can be argued that Ebersol is the most important Olympic figure in the United States.

NBC has televised every Summer Games to American homes since 1988; it has broadcast every Winter Games since 2002.

Since he was a teen-ager, the Olympics have been an Ebersol passion. He temporarily  dropped out of Yale to become ABC Sports' first-ever Olympic researcher; that was before the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France.

He had been with NBC since 1989.

In an internal call Thursday with NBC employees, he spoke about walking the halls of the network offices, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, for more than 20 years. He said he would miss that.

I was a full-time NBC employee for four years -- from 2006 to 2010 -- and a part-time employee for three years before that. I wasn't based at 30 Rock in New York. Even so, the culture that Ebersol created at NBC Sports was everywhere NBC Sports was. He had one hard-and-fast rule: no jerks.

Television and, later, the internet were hard enough and pressure-filled enough without people being jerks to each other. So no jerks.

That was the very best part about working at NBC.

Assuredly, the senior executives who will show up at NBC Sports on Friday morning, just as they did on Thursday, are remarkably talented. Without question, the bid they're going to put together for future editions of the Games is going to be significant.

But without Ebersol, will it be enough?

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, who in the mid-1990s engineered deals that swung the rights to NBC for multiple editions of the Games, said, "If they come without Ebersol, I guess they just come with a wallet."

NBC and Comcast executives called IOC president Jacques Rogge -- he took the call at 7:20 p.m. here local time -- to assure him that they still fully support the Olympic movement and intend to bid aggressively.

They said the timing of Ebersol's resignation had "nothing to do with the bidding for the Games," Rogge said in a brief interview in a hallway at the Palace Hotel, where the IOC's marketing commission was holding a dinner.

It was a "purely internal issue and Dick took a decision -- and we have to respect it," he said.

That said, Rogge allowed, Ebersol's announcement "was a shock for me."

Perhaps most tellingly, in a culture in which relationships traditionally are everything, Ebersol did not call Rogge in advance of the news breaking out to tell him about the resignation.

Rogge, for his part, said he had already sent Ebersol a letter. But he said Thursday evening -- this was halfway through that marketing commission dinner, which he stepped out of to say a few words to me and to Steve Wilson of the Associated Press -- that he had still not spoken to Ebersol.

Similarly, Ebersol -- who had been a hugely vocal critic of the U.S. Olympic Committee in October, 2009 -- had over the past several months recognized its new leadership, chief executive Scott Blackmun and chairman Larry Probst, with warm words.  Better yet, the USOC and NBC have been doing real business together in recent months.

In that same Palace Hotel hallway Thursday evening, here was Blackmun, standing next to Rogge. He said he had "no inkling" Ebersol was leaving.

"I'm sad," Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico, the IOC's current lead U.S. television rights negotiator, said later Thursday night in the Palace lobby. "I admire him on a professional and personal level."

The fact is, earlier this week Ebersol was still making plans for business calls early next week.

It makes you wonder whether the Ebersol rupture with Comcast transpired with violent speed or just had been a long time coming.

This, too, is true about Ebersol. If he was in charge of something, it was the case that you were going to be doing it his way. Nothing wrong with that.

That said, I don't know if that way is the Comcast way.

I do know this: They're going to be holding the Summer Olympics in London in just a little over 14 months, and Dick Ebersol is not going to be in charge of the NBC broadcast, and that seems almost impossible to comprehend.

"He'll be at the Games," Rogge said. "I'll invite him."