In my freshmen year of college in Los Angeles, a sociology professor set up a little demonstration designed to illustrate perception versus reality. Requiring three volunteers, he asked the hundred or so in the class if anyone was from Seattle, Chicago and Boston. Sure enough, the three cities were represented so off to the blackboard they went.
He then gave them what seemed to be the simplest of tasks: Draw a map of the United States. Three students, three maps. Curiously though, the three maps looked like three completely different countries:
The Seattle student showed us the intricate details of Puget Sound but forgot the Great Lakes even existed and drew the tip of Maine about as far north as Detroit.
The Chicago student drew the Great Lakes practically to perfection but made the west coast almost to be a straight line and New England seemed to stretch to the North Pole.
The Boston student nailed New England perfectly but drew the Great Lakes as if they were in Canada and California apparently includes a good portion of the Baja Peninsula.
The point of the exercise was simply to show people often view things outside of their comfort zone, or in this case the geographic area they know best, far more readily as perception than reality. And of course the very foundation of perception versus reality transitions seamlessly into college football fans and ESPN.
If there is a more neurotic “marriage” of fan and network than that of college football lunatics and ESPN college football “experts,” I’ve not seen it. On the one hand, I honestly don’t believe there are more passionate fans in all of American sports than those who follow college football. But at the same time, I believe it can be fairly stated they are the most paranoid sports fans in perhaps the entire world.
And when you consider no one brings more college football into your living room than the folks at ESPN, it’s not hard to understand how the whole arrangement begins to rival a soap opera.
Thanks to the talented cast of writers and performers back in Bristol (Conn.), the pom-pom carrying fan is never quite sure from week-to-week if Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Lou Holtz, Mark May, Chris Fowler and Reece Davis are villains or heroes.
Ocean’s Six, The Dirty Half Dozen, whatever you want to call them, many fans believe these guys might as well be college football’s version of The Star Chamber. Somehow, it’s believed, these six have more influence on college football than the actual games and players themselves. When you listen to fans who are drunk on fresh-squeezed paranoia juice, you get the idea you’re actually listening to a discussion on roller derby with all the requisite plots, sub-plots and schemes offered up in great detail.
So with that in mind, here are three brief conversations for your perception/reality consideration. The locations: Ann Arbor, Knoxville and Los Angeles, the respective homes of Michigan, Tennessee and USC. Incidentally, the home edition of ESPN College Football Perception vs. Reality is now available. But remember: If you play, friends don’t let friends drive paranoid.
First, let’s listen in on two Michigan Wolverines fans in Ann Arbor:
Maize: Screw ESPN. Bastards. They hate us.
Blue: And what’s up with Herbstreit? The guy went to Ohio State but he’s in bed with the SEC! All he talks about is how much the SEC is the best conference. He can kiss my ass.
Maize: It’s Holtz! I’m tellin’ you, it’s that little midget Holtz. He’s turned ESPN against us. He still hasn’t gotten over us whipping Notre Dame 38-0 in 2003 and he wasn’t even coaching them!
Blue: Look, ESPN loves the SEC. You might as well accept it. Friggin Corso — guy went to Florida State but every word out of his mouth is about Florida. I’m done with ESPN. They hate us and the Big Ten. And Fowler is just an idiot — the guy went to Colorado, enough said.
Next up, Knoxville and a couple of Vols fans:
Orange: Screw ESPN. Bastards. They hate us.
White: And what’s up with Herbstreit? Obviously, you get a Big Ten guy in there, he’s gonna slam the SEC every chance he gets. All he talks about is how overrated the SEC is. He can kiss my ass.
Orange: It’s Holtz! I’m tellin’ you, it’s that little midget Holtz. He’s turned ESPN against us. He still hasn’t gotten over the 35-34 Miracle in South Bend, the greatest comeback in Tennessee football history!
White: Look, ESPN loves the Big Ten. You might as well accept it. Friggin Corso — guy went to Florida State but every word out of his mouth is about Michigan. I’m done with ESPN. They hate us and the SEC. And Fowler is just an idiot — the guy went to Colorado, enough said.
Finally, a trip to Los Angeles to hang with some Trojans fans:
Cardinal: Screw ESPN. Bastards. They hate us.
Gold: And what’s up with Herbstreit? The guy hates the PAC-10! All the times he talks about us, it’s nothing but a smokescreen and a bunch of bull! The guy hates the west coast. He can kiss my ass.
Cardinal: It’s Holtz! I’m tellin’ you, it’s that little midget Holtz. He’s turned ESPN against us. He hasn’t gotten over the fact that Pete Carroll has won more national championships for SC than he ever won in his entire career!
Gold: Look, ESPN loves the SEC and the Big Ten. You might as well accept it. Friggin Corso — guy went to Florida State but every word out of his mouth is about Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State. I’m done with ESPN. They hate us and the PAC-10. And Fowler is just an idiot — the guy went to Colorado, enough said.
College football fans have turned selective listening into an art form; they hear what they want to hear. Moreover, a great many of them actually believe ESPN has an agenda against them. The whole thing boggles the mind.
The simple fact is this: It’s human nature to notice what media pundits are saying about your team and your conference far more than you pick up on what’s being said, or not said, about the other teams and conferences around the country. The fans screaming otherwise are usually the ones wearing the thickest glasses in their school’s colors. It’s really not a difficult concept to grasp yet so few seem to get it.
I have no ties to ESPN so I’m not shilling for the home team. But I refuse to buy into the notion that Chris, Kirk and Lee, on their College GameDay show, or Reece, Lou and Mark on College GameDay Final, have agendas against anyone. If they don’t show the proper amount of respect and love for your team, it’s likely more to do with your team underachieving . . . or, put another way, playing like crap.
In the perception versus reality game, if more college football fans took a step or 10 back and viewed the media landscape a bit more objectively, they might discover agendas are far better-suited for politicans than sports broadcasters.
About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of the cleverly named Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. You can hear him weekdays from 9 to Noon. As a writer and humorist, his work has been been published online by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters and publications within the Sun-Times News Group.