Apparently Tuesday was “Go After the SEC Day” around the nation. First, Bob Stoops called the league’s reputation a product of “propaganda.” Then The Sporting News’ Matt Hayes conveyed word that folks are now concerned that the SEC and ESPN will work to put more league teams in the new College Football Playoff:
“Sports Business Daily reports that ESPN will own the SEC channel and share profits evenly with the conference. The SEC owns the content. ESPN owns television rights to all of the new College Football Playoff.
See where this is headed?
‘If I were anyone other than the SEC,’ says one industry source, ‘I’d be more than a little uneasy about the whole thing.’
If there weren’t already claims from the West Coast, Midwest and Southwest that the SEC has received preferential treatment from the BCS all these years, imagine what happens the first time the most successful conference in the game gets two (or more) teams in the new College Football Playoff.”
First, Hayes is correct that there will be conspiracy theories. Thanks to the power of the internet, we no longer have any legitimate champions. The kind of “the refs were in the bag” or “the TV networks wanted ‘em” talk that used to be heard in barbershops can now be shared with the world via social media and blogs and straight-up media websites. We no longer crown champs. Instead, we claim that Spygate or Bountygate or stolen signs in baseball (the World Series-winning Phillies) or spending (“The Yankees and Red Sox just buy their titles”) is the real reason teams win titles. Hell, SEC fans do this to one another. If it’s your school that wins, it’s legitimate. If someone else win, there’s been some hanky-panky.
Second, Hayes is also correct that ESPN’s ownership of everything under the sun does make for some potential conflicts of interest. Now, it’s doubtful that the new playoff selection committee — whatever that group turns out to be — will be on the phone with ESPN discussing who the network wants in the field. That playoff will be watched by millions upon millions regardless of who’s playing in it. But throw logic out the window, the potential for skullduggery will leave many claiming skullduggery. Such is life in a world where ESPN has its hands in every pie.
Third, Hayes’ comment — “Imagine what happens the first time the most successful conference in the game gets two (or more) teams in the new College Football Playoff” — sums up the feeling we’ve been writing about since the playoff was announced. Outside the SEC, no one wants the league to get more than one team into the playoff. While there’s the slight potential that ESPN will try to influence the selection committee, there’s also the potential for selection committee members to succumb to their own biases in order to limit the number of SEC squads in the playoff. Funny, no one seems to be worried much about that.
Finally, there’s a crack in the argument that the SEC and ESPN are two big bodies in cahoots — ESPN is in cahoots with everyone. Who owns the rights to all the ACC games and is working on a new network for that conference? ESPN. Who partnered with Texas on its network? ESPN. Who has TV deals in place with the Big Ten and Pac-12 and Big East as well? ESPN?
Yes, the SEC Network figures to be the most profitable of all those deals, but to suggest that ESPN will somehow push SEC teams into the new playoff more often is to ignore the fact that the network would have to snub all its other partners to do so.
Oh, you can count on conspiracy theories. But that doesn’t mean the theories are reality.