ESPN's treatment of the Big East has been cold, calculated, and (as anyone who has ever read Sun Tzu's: The Art of War will tell you) brilliant. The Four Letter Network made short work of turning the Big East into the punch line of a national joke. It has blatantly maneuvered to exclude proud, or not so proud depending on who you ask, public universities from accessing college football's championship structure. I don't know about you, but I personally laugh my ass off when I hear someone waxing poetic about the "Pagentry and Circumstance of College Football." The only circumstances I see in college football are being dictated by ESPN's bottom line.
When will the schools left wanting from the rivers of football cash decide that they have a collective backbone? Why not just complete the consolidation of which teams matter and which teams don't? Why not just get the futile parasites of the NCAA to declare that the 60 teams of, "The Power Five" are a division unto themselves. May as well; there are 120 FBS schools, give' em Notre Dame and there you have it. Hell, while we're at it lets just let money and greed control all aspects of society.
Wait,... what? Never mind.
Last night Pitt and Syracuse, two dreadful teams, played in prime-time on ESPN. It was the first of two Friday night games for the defecting schools. No other Big East teams are slated for more than one Friday night game this year. Today a team which will be in the Big East next year, and happens to be undefeated and nationally ranked, played at noon,... on a channel that most Americans don't get as part of their regular packages. The other undefeated and nationally ranked Big East team playing today wasn't available at all, on television.
Next week, fans of the other undefeated/ nationally ranked team to emerge from the Big East will get their turn at being victimized by the boys in Bristol. The Louisville Cardinals are condemned to the 11am time slot on that same channel which isn't included in most basic cable packages. Oh, and on which channel in the "family of networks" might you find those other two Nationally ranked Big East teams next week? If you guessed, "we won't" you'd be right, because they're both on ESPN3.
No matter how much I wish I could, I can't remember a time when there wasn't an ESPN; probably because it's been in existence sine one year before I was born. We kinda grew up together. The early 80s were a time when cable was new and the American demand for a 24 hour World news cycle was still in its infancy. Back then the "Entertainment Sports Programming Network" seemed to have a real focus on truthfulness, accuracy, and objectivity. Somewhere along the line it all changed into a blathering conglomeration of talking heads, unabashed ball washing, and sensationalistic "reporting" on stories which aren't really stories.
The cost of most cable networks has remained in relative balance with one another for many years, but not ESPN. Its strangle hold on the 18-54 year old male demographic has done nothing but increase since its inception. So much so that it's now the highest priced network among all American subscriber fees. Perspective: TNT costs roughly $1.16/ month, ESPN costs the average American $4.69 per month.
Nick Summers, of Newsweek, recently wrote a piece on the World Wide Leader 's dominance in broadcasting and subscription fees. You can read it and listen to an interview with him HERE. But these are the money lines:
- "ESPN is sort of playing a different game than the regular networks like NBC and CBS... because they're also collecting these fees every month. If this were Pop Warner, the refs would have called the mercy rule by now. "
- "There is a ton of people for whom ESPN is the only reason they have cable, at all. You could make the case that ESPN is carrying many other networks on its back."
- "With revenue of $8.5 billion last year, ESPN has become the principal cash spigot of the Walt Disney Co.,... the backwater of Bristol has become more important than Disney World and Disneyland combined."
- When asked if anyone could eventually compete with ESPN in sports broadcasting... "Hahaha, not in our lifetime."
Since the Big East turned down ESPN's TV offer last year, the efforts to denigrate/ devalue the league have been well chronicled. Leaders from both the ACC and Big12 have openly admitted that ESPN told them who to target in expansion. ESPN has taken as much product as inhumanly possible from the one league that didn't fall into line like the rest. The Big East should have fallen into line with the rest, they likely wouldn't have been reduced to calling up Conference USA for replacements. It seems like a different lifetime when the Big12 was the league in trouble, and people openly talked about how the Big East should go after teams not named Texas or Oklahoma.
It's not just that ESPN controls the manner in which we view our favorite teams. They wield a great amount of influence on how teams are perceived, thereby influencing the realities of what they can accomplish in the hierarchy they've established. West Virginia started the season ranked #11 in the nation. Does anyone believe that they would've been ranked that highly to start the season if they were still playing football in the Big East? ESPN has such a vested interest in the success of the leagues they "report" on, trusting them to tell you the objective truth is like trusting a Kardashian woman who says she loves you,.. Kanye.
What do you do when your TV partner refuses to let you come up for air, refuses to allow the rest of the nation to see your product, and denies your followers the opportunity to watch their teams like normal fans? Thankfully, people smarter than me are trying to figure that out. Their decisions will affect how we, the have nots, will feel about college football moving forward, and how we get to enjoy our fanaticism.
So far this year Louisville, Cincinnati, and Rutgers all deserve better than what they've gotten from ESPN, and they deserve nothing more than the respect they've earned. Are they Alabama, South Carolina, or LSU? No they're not; but their record against the ACC speaks for itself, and boy O' boy West Virginia certainly appears to be the class of the Big12 this year, don't they? The Mountaineers scored more than 34 points twice last season in the Big East. They've already hung 70 on last year's 3rd place team, and they put 48 on the board tonight (for the WIN), in Austin. Did WVU magically get a whole roster of new players after last year? I know,... they must have fired their old coach who lost two games in the Big East, right? No?
Will ESPN ease up if the Big East keep winning? No, not unless the Big East re-ups with the devil, errr,.. I mean Walt Disney.
ESPN has become the heavy hand which guides our sports viewing lives; and that isn't going to change anytime soon. Stepping out of line with ESPN has not proven to be beneficial for the league, or its fans. The notion of going head to head with ESPN on another network in pursuit of an I will survive moment is appealing, but very risky.
ESPN broadcasts Football, Basketball, Baseball, and any other sport the NCAA will whore out to them for their cut of the free labor. ESPN/ ABC owns the college football post season. The only bowl they don't own broadcast rights to is the Cotton. The folks from the backwater of Bristol have taken a nation full of people who liked college sports enough to invest a few hours a week watching, and successfully turned them people who worship at the network's alter seven days/ week. We have been assimilated.
Still, I believe that a move to NBC could be a viable one if it's done right.
1. NBC must be "all in" with its promotion of the Big East. That means pricing its sports network in a way which allows cable providers to include it in America's basic packages. NBC needs to do things like create a Big East game of the week for national television, to be played on NBC, not the "NBC Sports Network." Notre Dame's schedule be damned. You just had Notre Dame leave your other sports for the ACC, you can't afford to jump into bed with her sugar daddy unless you have some assurances that your relationship means just as much as theirs. If the boys down at 30 Rock are smart, then they can plainly see that the Irish will be joining the ACC/ ESPN sooner rather than later anyway.
2. NBC must create their own bowl game for the Big East Champion. I realize the people who matter have recently given the Big East de-facto inclusion to their little cartel, but that simply isn't good enough. The Big East needs a guaranteed spot in a bowl, with national exposure and a big pay day.
3. NBC must aggressively pursue the #2 teams from the PAC12, BIG, ACC, as participants in this bowl game. Currently, the #2 teams from those leagues are playing in the Alamo Bowl (PAC12), Capitol One Bowl (BIG), and the Chick-fil-A Bowl (ACC). Good bowls, but if yours is on a day by itself, with an equivalent pay check on an over-the-air network, then your bowl is nothing to thumb your nose at. Strong arm Notre Dame into playing in your bowl when they're not stealing spots from ACC teams.
Conference realignment may or may not be finished, who knows? Not me and not you, but it's a relative certainty that the Big East will continue to be ESPN's punching bag. Unless of course they do re-up. For as much as ESPN downplays the credibility of the Big East, they still want the product they have to offer because they know they can make money from it.
Make no bones about it, a move to NBC would be a deceleration of war. You think ESPN treats the Big East poorly now? Wait and see what happens if we give' em the ole "I'm yer Huckleberry." Personally I'm all for it, as long as NBC is devoted to the cause. Bowl access, national television exposure, and a TV partner with the balls to do it doesn't make it any less risky; but, as a fan, it's a risk I'm willing to take if it's done right.
Talking to you, Mike Aresco.