What should you, the fan, expect from the SEC Network?
The new channel will have plenty of live games, yes, but just how much SEC news will be covered on the channel? The late Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders once complained that the NFL Network was digging up too much dirt on the very teams that owned it. On the flipside, there wasn't a whole heckuva lot of Penn State/Jerry Sandusky coverage on the Big Ten Network a couple of summers ago. So what should you expect from the channel that launches next month?
Justin Connolly, ESPN's senior VP of programming for college networks (read: SEC Network bigwig), shared his views on SEC Network content with Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com:
"This is not ESPN, this is not Outside the Lines. Our focus is going to be on reporting news, making sure it gets covered. But we are not an investigative journalism network and we're not necessarily out there with the same news infrastructure as ESPN to break stories or go deep into layers of stories. Yet at the same time when stories break, we're going to report on it and make sure fans know about it. We're going to seek comment, seek feedback from the schools. It's a fine line. It's a balancing act of what we air on this network."
Burke Mangus, ESPN vice president of programming acquisitions, doesn't sound as if he sees the line as being quite so fine:
"In order for this network to have credibility and authenticity, if it's not reporting a story about a player or a team or a circumstance that's important, that's a huge hit to what the promise of this network should be. We're not going to shy away from reporting the news, good or bad."
Mangus is correct. But here's guessing the SEC Network will actually look at the "fine line" Connolly spoke of and err on the side of caution. "Report the news, but don't spend too darn much time on the bad stuff," might be one way of putting it.
The SEC and ESPN are now business partners on a brand new channel. If a story hurts the SEC's reputation, it could also damage the appeal of the SEC Network. So if a bad story breaks, expect the network to cover it. Just don't expect too much in the way of investigative journalism.
In other words, it'll be like Republicans watching Fox News and Democrats watching MSNBC. Major stories will be covered, but the network honchos will remember who their audience is and what that audience wants to hear. Smart money says the SEC Network will be more of a promotional arm for the conference than it will be a news source for its viewers. And its viewers likely wouldn't want it any other way.