If you want to get Buckeye fans up in arms, there are only four letters that you need mention, and “F” isn’t one of them. I’m talking, of course, about the worldwide leader in sports and sports-like substances: ESPN. And it’s not that they don’t have reason to dislike the entity that former employee Dan Patrick famously dubbed “the mothership” for its *ahem* imperialistic approach to sports journalism. From Maurice Clarett’s saga in the early 2000s to Trev Alberts’ Fiesta Bowl guarantee all the way up to the lawsuit it filed (and lost) against the university in 2011, the mothership has given us plenty to shake our fists at.
It’s so obvious, even an SEC referee could see it: ESPN is biased against Ohio State. The executives have sent out word from their lair beneath a volcano in South America to employees up and down the ladder: Do everything in your power to take down the Buckeyes. ESPN wants nothing more than to take arguably the most high-profile ratings grabber in the nation and reduce it to a pile of rubble.
It feels good to say it, doesn’t it? Want to make it feel better? Stomp your feet and shout “it’s not fair” when you’re done. Then, sit down, take a deep breath and think about it for a second. ESPN doesn’t hate Ohio State. ESPN loves Ohio State. Sure, there are individuals working for the company who aren’t big fans Mark “Fat Urkel” May and the aforementioned Alberts, for example. But the network loves the Buckeyes.
You already know why, but I’ll state the obvious. ESPN loves Ohio State for the only reason that any major corporation ever loves anything: Because it makes them money. According to ESPN’s own poll the Buckeyes are the most popular college football team in the country. They’re also ratings gold. Do you think that ESPN would air its poorly researched Outside the Lines hit pieces rehashing old evidence if they didn’t know that the eyeballs would be there? Of course not. On that same token, do you think that ESPN will ever have an “All Access” week of programming based on Wisconsin? Again, of course not. Even Bret Bielema’s mother wouldn’t watch that. But the Buckeyes? They’ll pull an audience, so ESPN gave them a two-week-long series of free infomercials.
Now don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not suggesting we all run to embrace the World Wide Leader with open arms. The company in many ways is becoming a parody of itself. One only need look as far back as yesterday when the biggest story across the network was the 25th birthday of backup NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. I won’t get in to all of the details, Awful Announcing did a good job with that. Suffice it to say that Herm Edward s (speaking of parodies) ended up in a party hat giving Tebow gifts. In many ways the network is as hacky as it gets.
But even the most ardent ESPN hater has to admit that when the network decides to do something right, it is more than capable. The 30 for 30 series is a great example. College Gameday is still how I start every Saturday in the fall. Yesterday ESPN rolled out another outstanding program: the third season of its All Access program. This time, they’re taking a behind the scenes look at Ohio State’s training camp.
It’s a documentary-style show with no “commentators” and little to no narration. And for any fan of the Buckeyes, it’s a must watch. I know that many of you did watch. I also know that many of you boycotted the show because ESPN is “anti-buckeye.” Let me be the first to tell you, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. As a fan, you will likely never have this kind of access to the program, the coaches, and the players again. You will also never have a better way to feed your college football need in the weeks leading up to the season. There are fans of 129 other teams around the country that would kill to have their team featured in a series like this. Take advantage of it.
Things are going well for the Buckeyes now, and ESPN is doing the program a great favor by running this series that amounts to the best free marketing opportunity that the program has enjoyed in ages. On the other hand, down the road, if things go bad again, ESPN will be right there to revel in the decline, pumping out ratings grabbing OTL reports until the ink well runs dry. You’re not going to be able to avoid the bad when it comes, so stop taking sports so seriously and enjoy the good while you can.