Campus Insiders host/executive Bonnie Bernstein.

Campus Insiders host/executive Bonnie Bernstein. Credit: Handout

Bonnie Bernstein once was among the most visible women in sports television at CBS and ESPN, a past professional life that she is too busy to spend much time dwelling on these days.

Since April 2013, she has been both an executive and on-screen reporter/host for Campus Insiders, a website focused on college sports that offers studio shows, live competitions and on-site coverage for major events such as Monday's College Football Playoff championship game.

Diving into the Internet start-up world was as risky as it sounds, but so far she has no regrets.

"I'm proud I had the guts to take this job and do something no one else is doing," she said Friday during a break in CFP coverage from north Texas. "If we can pull it off, it will be the greatest accomplishment of my life."

Bernstein, 44, said she realized while producing a series called "Winner's Circle" for espnW that she had an interest in doing more than just appearing on camera.

"The last few years before I got connected with Campus Insiders," she said, "I had been sort of going through this process where I had hit my 40s and I've always had this entrepreneurial spirit, which was dormant, but it was an itch that needed to be scratched.

"There's nothing I love more than being at a tent-pole event and being part of the coverage or sitting down one-on-one with someone and luring an anecdote out of them, but I needed something more."

Enter Campus Insiders, which initially sought her merely as the "face" of the network. She asked to be involved in building the business itself and eventually was hired as vice president of content and brand development.

So for most of the college football season and for other big events such as March Madness, she appears in the site's Chicago studios, performing an on-screen role.

The rest of the year she mostly is an executive. She still maintains a home in New York. (She grew up in New Jersey.)

"The last two years have been an exercise in experimentation because there's really no precedent for what I'm doing," she said. "It's just been such an enlightening learning experience because when you're on the air, you're essentially blind to all of the other spokes in the wheel that are necessary to making a business successful."

That includes attending sales meetings, sitting in on public relations calls and working with clients and distributors.

But doesn't she miss the visibility afforded by being a network sideline reporter?

"When you get involved in a startup one of the things you learn is that you have to check your ego at the door," she said. "That's not to say when people hit me on Twitter or when I see them on the street and they say, 'We miss you on the sidelines on CBS' or, 'We miss you on ESPN' you don't stop and say wow, you had a great thing going.

"But here's one of my most critical life philosophies: I need to be growing every day in some capacity, whether that's personally or professionally . . . Is it difficult that Campus Insiders doesn't quite get the visibility of the networks? I wouldn't characterize it as difficult. I realize what it feels like to be on the top of the mountain. I'm in a position now to build a business to get there."

Bernstein noted that when strong brands such as ESPN were new, most sports fans didn't know what they were or where to find it. Then they became a habit.

"We're not a habit yet," she said. "That's what we want to become . . . I feel like I'm helping build something that could be really, really special."

Bernstein, who had a serious health scare in 2006 caused by deep vein thrombosis, was shaken by the recent death of a former ESPN colleague and friend, Stuart Scott, at age 49.

"I more than ever live by the whole carpe diem philosophy," she said. "It's a constant reminder that you have to live every day to the fullest."

More sports media