“Washing” Tennessee's Relationship with ESPN

lawvol gate21.netSenior Analyst IJuly 31, 2008

My, how things have changed…

If you’ve been keeping up with the happenings around Big Orange Country, you may be aware that Coach Fulmer spent some of his time post-SEC Media Days this week visiting the ESPN broadcast facilities in Bristol, Connecticut.  Not to be one who dwells overly in the past, I found this to be somewhat ironic considering past dealings between ESPN and the University of Tennessee.

I still remember, the battle of wills which played out between Tennessee and ESPN beginning the week before the Vols’ 1999 game against Memphis.  The Vols were the reigning national champions, and were riding that wave for all that it was worth, until a guy named Tom Farrey posted the first of a seemingly endless series of articles on ESPN.com alleging academic improprieties in the Tennessee football program.

This long-running storyline led to an near war between the program and ESPN, which ended up including an inquiry by the NCAA and more hand-wringing by Vol fans than they probably care to recount.  During the process, then head of composition for the English Department, Linda Bensel-Meyers, and then head of academic services for the athletic department, Carmen Tegano, would come under intense scrutiny by the public, the media, and the university.  Bensel-Meyers said Vol footballers were cheating, Tegano denied the claims.  ESPN did everything it could to keep the pot bubbling.

During that time period, ESPN was perhaps the single most-hated organization in the hearts of the orange-clad faithful.  There were numerous instances of Vol fans blasting ESPN for it’s tactics, booing ESPN personalities, and more than a few “choice” signs displayed at various encounters with ESPN’s College Game Day.

Needless to say, most Tennessee fans loathed ESPN at the time…

Of course, it didn’t help that Game Day’s Chris Fowler had referred to many Tennessee fans as trailer park trash in the wake of Peyton Manning not receiving the Heisman Trophy in 1997.  So souring the relationship between the school and the media giant was not really all that difficult.

Even after all of the controversy surrounding academic violations had quieted, Farrey again barbed Tennessee in 2004 with revelations that the Great Punkin was the “Deepthroat” of the NCAA’s investigation into recruiting violations which resulted in substantial penalties against the Alabama Crimson Tide — setting off a backlash by the Tide faithful against Fulmer.

The funny thing is that the disclosure of Fulmer as the “confidential informant” for the NCAA is — for all practical purposes — what led to him getting served a subpoena at Media Days only days before he landed in Connecticut to see the home of the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

While at ESPN, Fulmer made multiple live appearances on both television and radio, recorded several segments for the upcoming season, and met with a bevy of personalities.

By all reports, Fulmer sincerely appreciated the opportunity and enjoyed his time at the ESPN nerve-center.  Commenting on the visit, Fulmer stated, “I’m thrilled to be going through what they call the ‘car wash’ here today.“  What a difference a few years makes.

Considering that over the last decade ESPN and the Tennessee Volunteers have traded allegations of “whitewash,” “hogwash,” and “washed-up,” I suppose a “car wash,” is a step-up…

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

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