It wasn't long after the inception of the Big Ten Network that ESPN got in bed with the SEC.
It was good timing too. They didn't need to do much of anything to change what was already a huge number of SEC games that they would televise, but in the long run it was going to make them and their beloved conference a lot more money.
What we didn't know is that they would use their power and influence to position themselves and the SEC for future bowl games and money, as well as throw the Big Ten under the proverbial GameDay bus.
I understand that ESPN doesn't control bowl tie-ins, but they certainly have an influence on voters and fans.
Some of the fans, in particular those who don't keep up with the Big Ten, probably haven't even noticed. Let's give a small example. Let me note that this is only one example of hundreds that I have seen over the last year and a half.
A month ago ESPN featured their conference by conference breakdowns for college basketball. Hour-long specials were dedicated to the ACC, Big East, Pac-10, SEC and Big 12. They had team-by-team, complete breakdowns that covered each conference in depth.
There was only one problem: something that you may not have noticed—something that they have done repeatedly over the last 18 months. They left out the Big Ten.
Of course, why promote the Big Ten, right? After all, the SEC/ESPN contract really means more SEC basketball games than anything else. Why talk about the Big Ten conference? The answer: because using the professionalism and unbiased opinion that got you here is more important than shamelessly ignoring the best conference in college basketball in 2010.
Quite simply, they're afraid that the mere mention of the Big Ten conference may get you to switch the channel elsewhere, even, God forbid, the Big Ten Network.
For years ESPN made a HUGE deal out of the ACC/Big Ten challenge—even though it wasn't very competitive. For the last two years the network has downplayed the event (at least after the fact/SportsCenter coverage, etc.). I wonder why.
I can hear the Haters now as they read this. They're probably regurgitating some mess about Lou Holtz, Chris Spielman and Kirk Herbstreit and how ESPN only hires OSU analysts. It's kinda like the VW engineer who defects to BMW. He loves his VWs and wouldn't drive anything else, but he can't even show his allegiance or his garage of VWs for fear of losing his new high-paying job.
Lou is the only one who has the guts to stand up and say something, and that's only because it somewhat balances Mark May's bias against Ohio State—which happens to be the most unprofessional personal vendetta that I've ever seen behind a sports desk. The best way to make it look like you're not biased towards a team or conference—HIRE them.
So let's backtrack to Week 13, 12 days ago, when LSU sat above Wisconsin, Stanford and Ohio State in the BCS. Why? I'll tell you why—because they're an SEC team. But I digress. Aren't we supposed to look at the body of work and be a bit more objective about who is where in the polls, etc., or are we going to start accepting the fact that SEC teams will ALWAYS be ranked higher than any other BCS team with the same record?
Come on! LSU had no business sitting above Stanford and Wisconsin—who had made literal mincemeat out of their conference foes and not struggled to the wire against teams like Tennessee, Ole Miss and UNC.
I've got news for the masses: The SEC hasn't been all that dominant in CF the last two years. Sure, they won the last two national championships, but outside of that NC game, the conference has had some struggles OOC. You wouldn't know this because ESPN is too busy telling you about the strength of "their" conference.
Not to use a cliché, but LSU coulda, shoulda and perhaps woulda lost five games this year. All the while Stanford and Wisconsin are putting up Boise State/TCU numbers in a BCS conference.
This stuff really feeds itself. When LSU barely beats Tennessee, Les Miles says, "Just another day in the SEC," and the fans and ESPN eat it up. If Ohio State has a tough conference game, the only thing ESPN and the haters draw from it is that OSU is overrated.
Bottom line being that you can't discount the rest of the Big Ten like that or dog OSU for losing an in-conference game when the rest of the Big Ten (those not named Ohio State) have a decisive edge in games versus the SEC. Take out Ohio State, and the rest of the Big Ten has a winning record over the SEC in the last decade, 15-year span, 20-year span, and the last quarter-century.
So you'll have to pardon me if I don't understand why LSU gets props for beating Tennessee 20-17, yet Wisconsin is just doing what they should be doing when they beat Indiana by 60. The fact is that the SEC East is as bad as the West is good and that Tennessee went to the wire against another team too—ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM.
Over the last decade the Big Ten has won 49 percent of its OOC games against BCS competition—the SEC 52 percent. Hardly a landslide advantage.
The SEC reward for this reputation: They get to play more I-AAs than any other conference over the last decade, and we're not talking about the "better" FCS teams either. Their conference grind isn't just a great excuse to look good when they play badly against, say, Tennessee; it's also an excuse to schedule the most lopsided matchups in CF, and do it EVERY year.
In the last five years the SEC has played 60 FCS teams...in the last 20 years Ohio State has played two.
We just watched the SEC Championship Game—you know, the game that makes that grind so much more difficult for SEC teams. Yeah, good game. The game was never in question—not even before it started! Let me tell you why: MONEY!
Ohio State's Troy Smith takes an advance on a $375 paycheck and OSU sits him. Cam Newton's dad wants $180K, and it's no big deal, at least not the week leading up to the game. What? Sit down the player that singlehandedly is the reason Auburn is in the hunt? Sit down the guy that means $17 million in shared revenue? No way Jose! He didn't know his dad was doing it—that's like telling the officer you didn't know how fast you were going.
There's only one reason why Cam Newton is still playing football, and that reason is MONEY! Cam sits, Auburn loses, TCU plays in the NC, and ESPN, the SEC, Mike Slive and everyone else associated takes a pay cut. A big one.
I know, it's all about the athletes, and speed, right? News flash for all you SEC Kool-Aid drinkers—Ohio State recruits better than Auburn. I'd have to check, but I'd guess that Auburn has been rated above OSU in recruiting once, maybe twice in the last decade. You can take all that speed, warm weather, better coaches crap and try to sell that junk to somebody else, because we're not buying it anymore.
Let's look at something else—last year's Heisman Trophy. No question that Cam Newton has earned this year's trophy, but that doesn't mean that ESPN wasn't trying to give him the award, hands down, back in Week 8. What about Mark Ingram? Toby Gerhart was a better, more consistent RB and player than Ingram in 2009. Ingram had two games where he accounted for jack—Gerhart put up numbers week in and week out.
I challenge ALL OF YOU to look at Gerhart's numbers next to Ingram's, and look at LSU's results next to Stanford and Wisconsin this year, and tell me that Ingram deserved the award and that LSU deserved to be ranked higher than the Cardinal and Badgers in Week 13.
Now, I know what you're all saying. You're talking about how people vote for these things. What channel do these "people" use for their information? When they go home at night and click on the tube for their sports fix, what channel do they turn on? It's like police interrogation. Say it enough to a person (whether they're tired of hearing it or not) and they're eventually going to agree with you.
Flip it to ESPNU for your early morning college football fix on their new show The Experts—which might as well be called SEC Breakdown. I think the 200 hours of "expert" programming talked about the Big Ten ONCE all season. It was a subject more taboo than smoking on an airplane. I gave up after the Buckeyes, or any of their players, weren't mentioned on about 10 straight episodes.
I was hoping that ESPN would keep giving us an objective, unbiased opinion. Unfortunately, the last 18 months have proved to me otherwise. SECPN—The Conference Network.