Over the last few days it seems much has been made about the alleged SEC bias surrounding college football as well as a bias surrounding the #FACTs piece on the polarizing Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Our next post was going to be about the New York Times piece by Walt Bogdanich about the flawed rape allegations against Jameis Winston, which has made the rounds and referenced many times by media members, and pointing out all of the issues and falsehoods in the article. For now, that will have to wait although if you read our piece on the Winston Sexual Assault you should be able to see everything wrong with it yourself.
RollingStone recently posted an article titled The Worldwide Cheerleader: ESPN and the College Football Playoff, mocking their “Worldwide Leader” slogan, questioning if ESPN is pushing a pro-SEC agenda. Twitter has even gone off with the #SECBias hashtag.
It has apparently caught the attention of ESPN enough they have been on the defensive on each show aired this week since these items have come to surface. Chris Fowler on ESPN’s GameDay show was visibly upset about bias accusations stating he “gets upset when stupid, uninformed stuff gets repeated again and again.” Is he right?
Where did this all begin?
Television contracts for college football teams and conferences are really a relatively new and evolving adventure. Outside of bowl games, televising college football games have always been heavily controlled by the NCAA. In 1984, decentralization occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court found the NCAA’s actions violated the Sherman Antitrust Act when it ruled in the NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma case.
Following this event, teams and conferences were free to negotiate their own television contracts with networks. The modern era came with the increased popularity of cable television and when Notre Dame signed their exclusive deal with NBC in 1991.
It is a humbling idea to realize the modern era of televised college football began its infancy just a blink of an eye ago in the 1990’s while the potential profits and super contracts, have only been realized even more recently.
This is why we are where we are now, being what television broadcasting of college football games have evolved to, and has never been seen before while yet to happen until very recently.
Is there a bias?
Fans of teams not in the SEC will tell you the bias began years ago. Fans of SEC teams refuse to believe there is any bias at all and ESPN is just fairly reporting.
Long time college football announcer Brent Musburger, who now works for the SEC Network and owned by ESPN, when talking about an SEC bias during a live broadcast stated, “Somebody said we’ve got SEC bias. Deal with it. They’re the best.” According to fans not in the SEC, he just gave you the answer.
The answer really is yes and no.
Yes, there is a bias, but not necessarily for the SEC. ESPN, by their very name Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, is an entertainment source. They have no obligation to provide fair and balanced news reports. They are a network providing sports and entertainment although they often try to advertise themselves as a legitimate non-partisan news network when they are not.
ESPN is in the entertainment business. Certainly with emphasis on the business part, as in making money. They did not just create the company or wake up one day and decide they were going to drive their network toward one conference or another. They drive it toward money.
ESPN is majority owned (80%) by The Walt Disney Company, a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DIS. Disney is currently trading above $91 a share and comes in #61 currently on the Fortune 100 list.
We know Disney knows how to entertain and ESPN does as well, but more importantly this is big business with big investors and shareholders to please. What pleases them? More money.
They have more obligation to these shareholders and creating revenue than they do providing a fair and balanced news report. All the shows talking about sports aired on the various ESPN channels are not there to provide you with the most accurate and fair reports of what is going on in the world of sports. It is there for entertainment and most importantly, to create revenue. It is a simple fact of any business.
So where does ESPN’s bias reside? Toward money.
They do not care what conference or team is the catalyst for generating more revenue, just as long as they do. Right now, that is being provided by fans and even enemies of the SEC so naturally it makes good business sense to lean their way.
Do some of their reporters and on-air personalities have their own personal bias because of who they are fans of or graduated from, even if subconsciously? Absolutely, we all do. Lou Holtz is probably the one who hides it the least and has pretty much become a running joke with him. That however does not mean there is a bias overall throughout the company more than just the bias of wanting to create more revenue.
Who owns the other 20%? The Hearst Corporation.
Who are they? The Hearst Corporation was founded by William Randolph Hearst, one of the fathers of Yellow Journalism.
Yellow Journalism is defined as a type of journalism which presents little to no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. In the modern world it can be papers, clicks, website views, TV ratings and more. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering or sensationalism.
Most would agree it is safe to say ESPN and others have fallen under that definition pretty often, especially in regards to Jameis Winston. This type of tactic helps further their revenues even more.
What about the huge contract with the SEC?
This argument is brought up often since ESPN secured a 15-year, $2.25 Billion contract for TV rights. It tripled the previous deal with the SEC.
Does this alone mean they have a bias simply to protect their investment of billions of dollars in the SEC?
As Colin Cowherd pointed out on his ESPN show The Herd, that can not be true since ESPN has contracts with everyone including the ACC and Pac12. He is correct, ESPN has billion dollar contracts with them as well, but does that mean they can not still be biased towards the SEC in football? Not necessarily.
Securing contracts with these other conferences is still all about money and a wise business decision to keep ESPN relevant all year long since some provide much more revenue during basketball season so ESPN has those rights and revenues now as well. They also have more opportunities under such contracts to air female sports more and avoid the criticism they have received previously for not airing them enough and showing gender bias.
Probably most importantly however, these contracts for other conferences give ESPN more of a monopoly on the TV rights and crushes the competition, which again is just smart business. Competitors like Fox Sports, CBS Sports, NBC and others, have a much more difficult time competing for college football coverage when ESPN holds all the cards. About 90% of bowl games are aired on ESPN channels and they have secured the contract for the College Football Playoff, which would benefit them to have SEC teams participating in.
It once again comes back to money, generating revenue and eliminating competition.
But they have the SEC Network?
This is true, they do have the SEC Network and obviously the SEC Network is going to be bias towards the SEC and is owned by ESPN. No other conference network is owned by ESPN. The ACC is put on by Raycom Sports, the Pac12 Network is owned by the conference, the Big Ten Network is owned by Fox and the Big Ten Conference, but that does not mean ESPN would not own them if they had the chance.
Detractors of any SEC bias shown from investing in the SEC Network will point to the Longhorn Network as proof there is no bias since ESPN has ownership in it and is provided for the University of Texas.
This is a network for just one team, not an entire conference, so the argument is not very strong.
This network is once again about money and viewership. It is no accident it just happens to be the traditionally biggest draw in the state for college football, is the largest state in the continental US and the second most populated state in the nation and in a state where football is king from before high school all the way up to the pro level. That is high viewership numbers there.
At the time the contract was negotiated prior to launching in 2011, Texas had played in two National Championship games the previous five seasons including, winning one against a USC team with two Heisman Trophy winners and losing against the SEC’s University of Alabama in 2009. They were a safe bet at the time.
Negotiating this deal was once again about potential revenue although it did receive plenty of conflict of interest criticism towards ESPN. However, since launching the Longhorn Network, Texas has not been very successful relative to other teams in the state. Rivals Baylor and Texas A&M have been more impressive and have Heisman winners in the meantime. TCU has been more impressive as well.
The ESPN GameDay show, never cuts away to what is happening on the Longhorn Network (LHN) during their Saturday morning shows, they only cut away periodically to the SEC Network with Paul Finebaum and Tim Tebow. Reporters and on-air personalities do not frequently float between the LHN seamlessly like they do with the SEC Network. This just gives more of a SEC biased perception.
Paul Finebaum is certainly biased towards the SEC and if you can not see that then you just are not paying attention. An entire post could be done just on him and his bias which he does not hide and how terrible he is to be on television influencing the opinions of others.
Finebaum made a career and grew his popularity by allowing the worst of the worst of trashy football fans to call in to his show, providing them a platform to spew things you would not want your children listening to.
Phyllis is one of his most popular callers and this was the typical call from the type callers he allows on his show after careful screening not to allow anyone who disagrees with his bias on very long:
He talks about FSU, Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston on his show more than the SEC because of his deep hatred for them. You may ask if the hatred is deserved and I will point you to our previous series on Jameis Winston to show that it is not.
Finebaum is a graduate of the SEC and made his career covering the SEC beginning over 30 years ago in Birmingham. Winston and FSU are the ones most threatening to the SEC product and Finebaum knows it, thus his constant attacks on them. To the casual observer, it would seem he hides it well by hiding behind screened calls and trying to maintain a tone showing no bias.
Paul Finebaum wrote a book published in 2014 titled My Conference Can Beat Your Conference.
He was also hired to the SEC Network which launched the same month his book was published in 2014 and he used this as a platform, although not overly aggressively, for selling it. During the opening sound bite of his show he even says, “The SEC is just so much better than everyone else.”
The SEC had seven BCS National Championships in a row while work was being done on both the new network and his book. Just prior to the release of both of them, guess who ended the SEC’s streak of dominance in the final BCS Championship game in 2013? Obviously, the Florida State Seminoles over the Auburn Tigers of the SEC.
So naturally, as invested as Paul Finebaum has been in the SEC and with how the Seminoles took that eighth championship in a row and their continued spot on the throne of college football away from him, it is only natural for him to have resentment toward anyone threatening his beloved conference and wallet.
This is who ESPN constantly consults for their analysis of the football arena and promotes as an expert when he is hardly deserving of such praise. His bias was so bad during a live broadcast on a 2013 GameDay show, Desmond Howard laughed him off and said he did not even deserve a Heisman vote (paraphrasing) after his remarks.
Having Finebaum on the SEC Network is one thing, but a personality like him, who makes no apologies for his bias, on air on ESPN’s primary channel constantly during one of their most popular shows on the most popular viewing day of the week, just continues the perception of a bias by ESPN as a whole.
Why does ESPN report on players differently who are not in the SEC?
You may notice when watching ESPN, the GameDay shows on Saturday mornings and even during the broadcasts of live games themselves, certain players seem to be vilified more for the same or less indiscretions as others and others praised more for less impressive play. Since we have already covered Jameis Winston in detail and he is who is covered most, we will use him as an example.
There is no need to go into all the detail of the coverage he has received for mild indiscretions, false accusations both of assault and signing for pay since you have heard it all by now unless you have lived under a rock. It is the coverage in comparison to his SEC counterparts which draws criticism.
Continuing to compare Winston’s autograph situation to former Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley’s was completely inaccurate and mostly fabricated. Then Kenny Hill, who was the Heisman frontrunner after his game one performance against South Carolina, had run-ins with the law prior to the season and was suspended indefinitely before being allowed to return and has been suspended now for two games for unspecified violation of team rules and barely a blurb was mentioned during the GameDay show. Two Tennessee players have been accused of rape and barely a blurb about it as well. You never hear of the rape case in the Vanderbilt football program involving several players dating back to last year which has cases still ongoing. Finally, Treon Harris, the blue chip recruit and freshman quarterback of FSU’s biggest rival, was also accused of rape with even more evidence against him than in the Winston reports with more evidence of a coverup, and not a single mention of it as he made his first start against cross-state rival University of Georgia this weekend on his way to an upset win in Jacksonville, FL.
With all the accusations of Jimbo Fisher running a dirty program and coverups, it seems the SEC has written the book on keeping incidents on the down low, or is ESPN helping them?
These are just a handful of examples. Why the discrepancy?
Negative Jameis Winston news sells. Why does it sell? Because whether done on his own or created by the media, he is the villain.
ESPN always has to have a villain because a villain sells. Brent Musburger said on the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Brian and The Boz, “One of the things that drives ratings, that drives money… is a villain.”
These words still hold true and The Boz was one of the first villains who would sell. The Miami Hurricanes sold, when there was nothing else, Reggie Bush sold, Cam Newton sold, Johnny Manziel sold and now Jameis Winston is selling.
Everyone tunes in hoping to see the villain finally fall. Even with the first game of King James’ return to Cleveland being aired at the same time, according to ESPN PR man Josh Krulewitz, FSU’s road game with Louisville had the best ratings of any game aired on ESPN this season.
So it is obviously selling and ESPN is cashing in on it. You can not blame them for that, it is their job to make money. Although you can criticize them for their irresponsible handling of it and how it can impact a young mans life and the careers of his teammates.
Can’t you hear the bias during the games?
Yes, you absolutely can, but whether that is a product of the higher-ups at ESPN or the announcers personally is to be determined.
Even the coaches are all in on it. After beating Kentucky, before Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen left the field he talked about how it is a hard fought game every week in the SEC. We will remind you Kentucky won their first conference game this year against Vanderbilt and had not previously won a conference game since beating a 5-7 Tennessee team all the way back in 2011. We will give credit that Kentucky is much improved this year and sits at 2-4 in the SEC.
During Mississippi State games this year you can really hear it since they are the current media darling. No matter what happens or how ugly the game is, it is always just another gritty performance and tough match up in the brutal SEC. They always have a built in excuse for poor play and promoting players.
This weekend for example, there was constant hype around Dak Prescott and his Heisman campaign aired on ESPN2. The words “Heisman frontrunner” were uttered countless times and “Heisman moment” was even used a couple times near the end of the game.
The announcers may have been seeing something the rest of us could not, but there were certainly no Heisman moments in that game and if Prescott is somehow the Heisman frontrunner, it is only being driven by media hype and not from being overly impressive on the field.
There were no Heisman moments in the close 17-10 come from behind win against lowly Arkansas who had every opportunity to win the game. After he had thrown for 286 yards in the game, they discussed his Heisman odds increasing since it was a career high for passing at that point. Having 286 yards passing in your third year playing as your career high, is not impressive at all.
Let’s compare that to the current Heisman Trophy winner who is very rarely talked about in the Heisman race anymore and never propped up so much by television commentators. The 286 yard performance with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns at that point in the game, certainly would not garner anyone Heisman attention. For Jameis Winston, it would be considered a terrible night.
Prescott finished with 331 yards, 1 touchdown late to take the lead and 2 interceptions. Hardly anything to write home about and his greatest contributions came on being a glorified fullback. Much like how his head coach Dan Mullen did with Tim Tebow during his time at Florida, he was used for converting short yardage 3rd down plays.
That would be a terribly off night for Jameis Winston who has eleven 300+ yard passing games in his career including two over 400 yards. His latest coming in his last game against Louisville, a ranked team on the road with the top ranked defense and with a hurt ankle. He has already had four 300+ yard games this season in the seven games he has played in, with his lowest coming against Citadel at 256 where he only played a handful of series, 297 against Wake Forest in a blowout and right near the 300 yard mark (still higher than Prescott’s previous career high) and 273 against top ranked Notre Dame.
It is funny to see Prescott propped up when his career high game would be an average to bad night for Winston. Winston throws for over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns against a ranked team on the road on a Thursday night, which we know can produce weird results and gets no mention. I leave off his number of interceptions because it is always left off by media members when discussing Prescott.
Prescott gets a home (and they have an exceptional home field advantage since they are the only NCAA team allowed to bring noise makers in the form of cowbells) win against an unranked team who has not won a conference game since beating a 2-10 (0-8) Kentucky team midway through the 2012 season over two years ago and is praised as if it is a top match up.
Prescott’s best performances which have padded his stats have come at home against lowly UAB and Southern Miss who would be an above average FCS team, both at home. He accounted for nine touchdowns just in these two games alone. In two of his last 3 games, he threw for more interceptions than he did touchdowns, 5 INT’s to only 3 TD’s, and both of those games were at home. Winston’s best games so far this year have come on the road.
This season, Winston has more passing yards and same number of passing TD’s while missing a full game, a better completion percentage (even better percentage than he had last year) is only in his 2nd year playing compared to Prescott’s 3rd, yet does not get nearly the hype of Dak Prescott.
Had Winston had a similar performance at home against an unranked team, the narrative of FSU being overrated and he is out of the Heisman chase would be furthered. To prop Prescott up above Winston based on performance for the Heisman race is simply laughable. Meme’s have even been created for the performance.
The hype and discrepancy is only driven by the media, a misinformed public about Winston’s off the field issues and Winston fatigue. Fatigue meaning the media does not want to bore the public with the same story of who the obvious Heisman frontrunner should be because unless something new, exciting and different comes along, it does not sell.
Is the bias driven by the announcers or over their heads?
According to Doug Gottlieb who left ESPN for CBS, during a 2012 interview on The Dan Patrick Show, he detailed ESPN’s operations including which stories and how to steer them came from above. He talks of how producers and on-air talent were pushed to talk about only certainly things which would sell. When Patrick asked if ESPN reports the news or creates it, he replied “both.”
Patrick stated when referring to ESPN’s news wing relative to their entertainment division, “They’ve lost all credibility, a large portion of the credibility of covering news…you’re trying to create things here.” He continued, “I think there’s just a different mindset from what they’re doing and how they’re covering it.” He went on to provide examples of stories covered and not covered during this statement to validate his point.
It seems the bias could be said to be coming from both, but more from over their heads and obviously they are interested in keeping their jobs.
This must be working against teams outside of the SEC in recruiting right?
You might think so, but just in the past week Florida State has received two five star commitments from defensive back Tarvarus McFadden and running back Jacques Patrick. This moved Florida State up to #2 or #3 in the recruiting rankings, depending on which service you view, and one of only two schools, along with Alabama, with three five star recruits committed.
Sure there are going to be some recruits who buy into all the media hype surrounding the SEC and want to play in the conference they feel is the best and even some who do not want to play for an alleged dirty program that allegedly is Florida State by the way the media talks, but many recruits are smarter than that.
They can see the facts despite the media and, in the cases of McFadden and Patrick, even claim they appreciated how much Jimbo Fisher defended his players regardless of all the media pressure. They are also smart enough to see who is consistently producing wins on the field and draft picks in the NFL and making wise business decisions.
With scholarship limitations, every big time school from USC, Notre Dame, Texas, Florida State, Oklahoma, Clemson, etc are still going to get their fair share of top recruits even if not in the SEC. It is just interesting to see the latest five star commitments actually make it a point to point out Fisher defending his players and having a family atmosphere having played a major role in their decisions. So maybe it can even be used as a tool to work in their favor when recruiting.
Yes, there is a bias. Of course there is. The bias is for money and the SEC just happens to currently be the largest benefactor of this bias and it seems this trend will not be changing any time soon. As a business, it would be unwise to not have a bias regardless of what Chris Fowler would have you think.
Yes, the coaches and players of the SEC are all in on this narrative since it can help with their recruiting and any time they have a poor performance they have an excuse as long as it was against an SEC foe.
ESPN, Fowler, Cowherd, Musburger and others will tell you they only cover them more because they are the best. This is not the point. Few deny the SEC has been the best conference over the last decade, specifically the SEC West.
The issue does not come with the amount of coverage provided as they like to try pointing out in overly simplified terms, it comes with the discrepancies in how they cover teams and individual players from each conference relative to the SEC.
Simple phrasing by announcers during live game broadcasts, on-air personalities on other shows, the promotion of undeserving players over more deserving players along with discrepancies in how off the field issues are covered and much more go into what makes up the core of the bias shown, not just the quantity of coverage.
Accusations of bias against #FACTs
When browsing a few message boards where we were pointed to our series on Jameis Winston posted, rarely did we find anyone with anything negative to say about the post and so far, nobody has had anything to say which can discredit or object to any of the facts shown. Here is one example of a negative post and accusation of being over the top:
Sometimes displaying facts takes time and length to do in detail. It is just the way it is to be able to provide everything fairly and accurately.
Notice he states, “No normal human being could possibly read all that.”
We will save the Auburn lack of education jokes of someone who apparently believes a few pages, stretched out because of pictures, are just out of the realm of possibility of being capable reading of a human being. Obviously he may still be a bit upset over what Winston did to his team in the BCS National Championship game last year.
He states we went over the top, yet does not state how or what facts are incorrect. To date, we have seen nobody be able to point to any facts we claim as being incorrect. The piece was not intended to defend Winston, but to be sure the facts are known, just like every post here.
If he and others can not take the time to even read it, common sense would dictate a fair assessment can not be made about it. You can freely leave comments here, so if there are facts which you find to be incorrect, you can leave them here directly and we can address them fairly. However, it should go without saying, please do not insult the intelligence of anyone by just hating just to hate because the findings do not support what you want, especially if you will not even bother to take the time to read the post. Who do you think has more biased, someone with multi-billion dollar contracts, or someone just looking at the facts with no financial incentive or even notoriety?