So few weeks ago I had a friendly back and forth with our friend Kyle over at Dawg Sports concerning the inherent East Coast bias in the World Wide Leader (WWL) aka ESPN. Paragon also weighed in with some good observations over at Conquest Chronicles.
Our discussion stemmed from Kyle taking issue with a Ted Miller column in the Seattle Post Intelligence, which brought up the assertion of dreaded "East Coast Bias" perceived by Pac-10 teams/fans. During the back and forth during which I asserted:
"College GameDay" simply hypes the games to which its parent company has the broadcast rights. This is no different from the decision to allow artists from a commonly owned record label to perform the "GameDay" theme song. Where there's money to be made (as with, for instance, airing shows declaring the Pac-10 champion to be "The Greatest Team Ever"), E.S.P.N. is right there on the West Coast bandwagon.
Let?s take a look at a pretty heavy sampling of the staff make up of the ?World Wide Leader" - main personalities/anchors/analysts - who are primarily involved in the broadcasting of their college football and hoops coverage. Here is a list of their names with alma mater/regional background. Formed this chart based on the info in Wiki and of course ESPN itself:
|Mike Gottfried||Football||Pitt*||Big East|
|Mark May||Football||Pitt||Big East|
|Kirk Herbstreet||Football||Ohio State||Big-10|
|Fran Fraschilla||Hoops||St. Johns/New Mexico*||Big East|
|Digger Phelps||Hoops||ND*||Big East|
|Bill Raftery||Hoops||Seton Hall/La Salle||Big East|
|Doug Gottlieb||Hoops||Oklahoma St.||Big-12|
|Tom Brennan||Hoops||Vermont*(UGa Alum)||Northeast|
|Dan Shulman||Hoops||Univ. of Western Ontario||Who Knows|
|John Saunders||Both||Ryerson PolyTech. (Can)||Northeast|
|Scott Van Pelt||Both||Maryland||ACC|
|Bob Ley||Both||Seton Hall||Big East|
|Mike Tirico||Both||Syracuse||Big East|
|Mike Golic||Both||Notre Dame||Big East|
|Joe Theisman||NFL||Notre Dame||Big East/Indep.|
* = denotes coaching experience (yes I know I am using that term - "coaching" - liberally in the case of Steve Lavin).
^ = How else should I categorize Duke Vitale?
Obviously this is not a complete list. There are few more holes to be filled in. For i.e. It?d be good to know where Dave Barnett and Brad Nessler went to school as both of them are heavily involved in the broadcasting of college football/basketball games (mostly Midwest). However, even though it is not a complete list, if you take a look at the sampling above, you will note some obvious trend lines.
ACC, Big East, Big -10 dominate this list of 41 (45 if we include the names in Italics) with 9, 8 and 7 Representatives. The East Coast/Midwest based representation is actually even heavier. Macguire, Thorne, Brennan, Berman, are all based in Northeast. Dan Patrick is from Big-10 country.
Meanwhile, Big-12 has 4 representatives. 3 of them are biggies. Chris Fowler (CU) anchors the coverage of ESPN's college football. Trey Wingo has a spot on the Sports Center anchor spot and he also hosts the show "Who is No. 1," and then there is Doug Gottlieb pimping Big-12 hoops night in and night out on the sets of College Gameday for hoops. Simiarly, even though SEC has 2 representatives, they are meaningdul ones. One of them happens to be Rece Davis (Alabama Graduate), who is one of the key anchors in covering post Game Day actions (on Saturdays) and also anchoring college hoops coverage. And then you have soft spoken Ron Franklin (alma mater?) anchoring ESPN's SEC coverage, who is pretty much a spokespeson for the SEC on behalf of ESPN. Erin Andrews (Florida) gets a lot of face time in their football coverage.
Not a single alum. from the Pac-10 schools are represented in ESPN?s coverage of college football and hoops. I threw in Bill Walton and Sean Salsbury in that mix above because both of them represent their school with pride, however their assignments are pretty much focused in the pro. leagues (just like Irvin, Thiesman, Young etc, all in italics).
Again as mentioned above this list is primarily made up folks on who are directly involved in their coverage of college football/hoops on TV based on the info. in the Wiki. I didn't include the alma mater allegiances or folks who exclusively focus on Sports Center. I included names like Sturat Scott, Scott Van Pelt, Ley, Greenberg, Golic, Musberger because of their high profile personalities who often get o chime in fairly prominently in the coverage of high profile college football/hoops games covered by ESPN. If there any other obvious individuals I forgot to include in this list, let me know in the comment thread. I will add them in. However, I don't think it will make much of a difference in the trendlines gleaned from the chart above, which shows obvious heavy/meaningful representation from all the power conferences except for the Pac-10
I think this discrepancy matters and it has real affect on how ESPN who markets itself so heavily as the WWL of sports, actually end up providing nothing more than regional/provincial coverage on national sports landscape heavily influenced by an East Coast Centric view. As Kyle points out above ESPN is driven by the profit. Yes it?s the corporate lackies in Disney who are making all the calls in terms of which teams to hype, whom to promote, when it comes to promoting their programs, matchups etc. However, while they are doing that, I?d submit the coverage of ESPN is also being affected by the inherent bias because of the natural allegiances of their prominent opinion makers in their networks, who are overwhelmingly represented by all the power conferences except for the Pac-10.
Let?s think about football for a second. Let?s say as a hypothetical both Oregon State (I will leave UCLA out of this for now since we obviously expect us to start 5-0 anyways) and Purdue starts this upcoming season with a 5-0 clip. Which team do you think ESPN is going to go ga ga over? Of course if you go by Kyle?s explanation than the obvious answer is Purdue because ESPN?s K with the Big-10. Hey that is fine. But would you be able to blame the Oregon St./Pac-10 fans if analysts like Herbstreet, Blackledge, May, Golic (on his Mike and Mike show) naturally show their love for the team from the Midwest? It happens every year.
Latest case in point came last Sunday, when ESPN?s Sports Center had a special session on ?College Football Rivalries,? featuring a roundtable hosted by Rece Davis and Blackledge and May. They talked up all the huge rivalry games of this upcoming season. They talked up how Ohio State has been owning Michigan. They talked up how Alabama just may be the busting up the streak against Alabama. The West Coast ?rivalry? they talked about? Are you read? Yes, the focus of their biggest "west coast rivalry" this past weekend was Cal v. USC. Okay, we get it. Cal is one of the favorites to win the Pac-10 along with USC. We get that. They deserve that. But since when exactly the "Cal v. USC rivalry" has been on the same level as "Michigan v. OSU" or "Alabama v. Auburn"? I?d really like to know. Okay, they brought up the Cal v. USC game, because it will be one of the marquee games of this Pac-10 season (at least projected by the so called pundits). But that doesn?t mean they have to mention that game as a rivalry game without even mentioning how UCLA may have a chance to end it's streak of futility against SC at the Rose Bowl. By doing that those clowns in ESPN were pretty much snubbing their noses on all the Pac-10 teams in general. They don?t really care about presenting a sincere/accurate picture of the traditions of West Coast college traditions. And by doing so they do a disservice to sports fans across the country while marketing themselves as a national network.
Of course same things happen on hoops all the time. Just take a look at the grid above and see how many ACC analysts are involved in the broadcast of ESPN hoops. Blowhards like Vitale, Bilas, Davis, do really nothing more than to shill for their conference hoops, basically turning ESPN into a recruiting network for high school kids all across country. And it doesn?t help a school like UCLA, when we have no talent ass clown like Lavin ?representing? the ?West Coast? view on hoops, when he really has nothing but contempt for UCLA fans, and also idiots like Digger Phelps spewing his anti-Wooden bile.
Anyways, the point I wanted to make again was that I get it that ESPN/ABC is driven by the profit making goals of Disney Corporation. That is fine. That is Americana. Capitalism. I am all for it. However, our beef with ESPN is really when it claims to portray itself WWL. In promoting itself as a national network, it?s programming on college sports is arguably shaping the major media narratives of college football not just for the conferences it is contractually bonded to, but it is affecting the entire country.
If they really want to portray itself as a network which truly offers objective coverage/analysis on college athletics landscape across the nation, then it should think about staffing itself in a way that would not make them so obviously susceptible to charges of being nothing but an Eastern Sports Programming Network. Doesn?t mean they have to go out and hire themselves hordes of alums from Pac-10 school. But it sure helps to have some kind of meaningful presentation in the sets of College GameDays for both football and hoops, the way Big-12 and the SEC are being represented by figures such as Fowler, Wingo, Gottlieb, Davis, who have the platform (due to their programming roles in the network) to provide meaningful representations from their alma mater?s conferences. It helps. It helps when someone like Mack Brown is going up against Tedford for the final BCS spot (as was the case 2 years ago) is coming on a show that is hosted by a Big-12 graduate. No one from Pac-10 is there in those shows to make the case for our guys, while everyone else continue to pimp the teams from Big-10, 12, Big East, and even the SEC day in and day out. Yeah, we got Shelley Smith. But big whoopti do. She is a Husker as noted above. WTF does she care about Pac-10 conference?
Anyways, we can go on and on about this topic. As mentioned elsewhere during my discussions with Kyle, Pac-10 management has itself to blame for getting into less than favorable contractual arrangements with the Fox Sports Network, who doesn?t do a great job of promoting the conference. However, that doesn't mean ESPN cannot make any effort to display some sort of fairness when setting up their narrative in the world of college football/hoops. Big-12 just like Pac-10 is also Ked to FSN. However, unlike the Pac-10, the Big-12, gets its share of love on the sets of ?WWL,? because of the meaningful representation it has in the staff make up of Eastern Sports Programming Network. Until we see staffers with the cache of Fowler, Davis et al. who can always interject themselves in the national conversations keeping the discussion honest, the Pac-10 fans have all the reasons to be suspicious of the WWL. Because the way they are set up right now ? fair and balanced ? they are not. They have become kind of a joke. It's too bad because I used to like these guys: