The Texas A&M Board of Regents voted unanimously today to allow university president R. Bowen Loftin the power to deal with conference realignment. This was the first step in a long process for A&M to join the Southeastern Conference. Meanwhile, in Bristol, Conn., the Worldwide Leader in Sports was busy telling everyone who would listen why Texas A&M joining the SEC would be the end of college football as we know it. It is hard to watch ESPN's coverage of the SEC's move toward realignment without seeing an agenda.
In 2010, when ESPN writer Pat Forde wrote about Nebraska's imminent move to the Big Ten, he praised NU and Tom Osborne for joining a league "that isn't going anywhere."
Fast-forward to 2011 when Texas A&M attempts to join the stability of the SEC and Forde rips the Aggies as a mediocre program whose actions could set off college football Armageddon. Forde paints the Aggies as a program defined by insecurity which is making an uninformed decision. So why is there such a dichotomy? Why is it okay for Nebraska to seek stability but not Texas A&M?
A closer inspection of the situation reveals the ESPN has a vested interest in Texas A&M remaining in the Big 12. With their $300 million commitment to the Longhorn Network, ESPN has a huge financial incentive to see the Big 12 remain intact. A conference matchup of Texas vs Houston is not quite as compelling to viewers as Texas A&M vs Texas.
If Texas A&M leaves to join the SEC, a good portion of the 28.2 million television viewers in the state of Texas will go with them. With a network based on the third tier rights to a single college program and only one football game, ESPN needs all the viewers they can get.
There is an expansion clause in ESPN's television contract with the Southeastern Conference. If the SEC expands from its current lineup of 12 teams, the conference can renegotiate the contract for more money. It is estimated that the addition of Texas A&M and its huge television footprint to the conference can cost ESPN upwards of $100 million. Obviously, ESPN has a huge financial incentive to scuttle this realignment.
As Texas A&M continues on their road to the SEC, expect to see more pundits from ESPN bashing the move. Do not be surprised when you see a conjured up economic impact study quoted as the truth on SportsCenter. Evidently, it is too much in this day and age to expect journalistic integrity from even a national news network.
The executives at ESPN care more about money than accurately reporting the news. They will ignore the fact that multiple schools have left conferences after getting sick of dealing with Texas' hubris. It is too important for ESPN that they advance the perception of a perfect program in Austin. In the end, all they will prove is that Texas A&M is making the right choice to SECede.