ESPN: They Hate Us!

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. 

ESPN College GameDay BusIt depends solely on what team is being discussed, the opinion on that team at a particular moment and the fan that is interpreting what’s being said.  The combination of those elements:  Pure genius.

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.

Filed Under: ESPNMediaSports

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.

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  1. Peter says:

    I dunno, I’m from Seattle and I can draw a map of the US pretty well… oh and ESPN DOES have an east coast bias. You can’t deny that 🙂 Stupid Corso…


  2. Chris, this is one of the best stories that I have read in a long time. There are some valuable lessons that people can draw from that pertain to many facets of life, not just college football fanaticism. If more people would just shut up, open up their eyes and listen, they would see reality in a better light.


  3. Ted says:

    Actually they are a bunch of inconsistent incompetent boobs. They love OSU before the BCSCG then they beat the crap out of them after they are spanked thouroughly. They love USC for the 1st part of the season then USC gives up a humiliating upset to a 41pt dog – then just bag on them incessantly. That is until USC gets a couple of players back and beat up ASU late in the season. USC is the best again. UGA is the hottest team in the country late in the season and ESPN talks them up for the BCSCG while they are ranked at #4 (Just knowing both 1 and 2 won’t lose the last week of the regular season). Boom, 1 and 2 lose – UGA can’t go – they didn’t win their conference. Basically trying to create a new unwritten rule, that just the year before was not even considered. Remeber Herbstreit basically pimping himself for a OSU vs UM BCSCG. He was saying that it didn’t matter that UM didn’t win the Big 10 because their only loss was to #1 OSU.

    The main point of this article is just stupid. The reason everyone thinks ESPN hates their team is not everyones individual biasas. ESPN is the ultimate front running, bandwagoneer. They rarely admit their mistakes. Example: Mark May was picking Hawaii to beat UGA going away (sticks out in my mind because I thought it was absurd). As soon as the game was over – never admitted he even picked UH – just basically said they should never have been in the game in the first place. If ESPN would at least to try and have some consistancy it would be appreciated.

    Also, can they either stop presenting themselves as the experts or stop saying things like “it’ll be closer than the experts think”. Drives me crazy either they are the experts and they are saying “it will be closer than I (we) think” or they are saying “my opinion is valuless”


  4. ugatlien says:

    I can understand where you are coming from…but do you not remember the 2005 national championship game? They called USC the greatest team…in…the…history…of…college football. I go to UGA. I am biased as any good SEC fan would be. However, I think ESPN did their part in reminding everyone of the unwritten conference champ rule. I don’t think Georgia deserved to go. However, Kirk Herbstreit changed his philosophy on the worth of conference championships the year after it did not involve a Big 10 team. His push for Michigan last year revealed his intentions…although I still think he is one of the best analyst in sports. ESPN has a major influence on both AP voters and coaches. Rankings are often based on the opinions of ESPN alone…so, I don’t see how it is of no consequence.


  5. CGabriel says:

    ugatlien: In an earlier blog here (BCS a Mess After Another Wild Saturday), I was one in the minority that believed Georgia deserved to be in the national championship game.


  6. Ted says:

    the point is that ESPN decided that UGA didn’t deserve to be in the championship game, 2 days after proclaiming they would if 1 and 2 were to lose.

    My personal opinion is that they didn’t win the SEC so that ends it. However, conference championships is not a requirement, has never been a requirement and it has been considered as a rule almost every year and rejected. On top of that they have actually put forth 2 teams into the game in past years who didn’t win their conferences. Nebraska lost badly in a late season game that kept them out of the Big 12 cg but they were pushed through to the BCSCG. Oklahoma lost very badly in the b12 cg to KSU and still were put through to the BCSCG. On the other hand UGA won 6 or 7 straight games.

    Is there anybody out there who would believe, that if ND had UGA’s record and exact success and was sitting at #4 when that final poll was taken they wouldn’t have moved up to #2 instead of falling to #5?

    If UGA had worked under B10 or Pac10 rules they would have finished tied for the conference championship at 6-2 with LSU and UT.

    Has anyone ever seen teams jump or fall in the polls based on the last week of the season. LSU and OU both jumped 5 spots. At the same time OSU and UGA were sitting at #3 and #4 respectively with a very slim point total differnce. Neither team plays and OSU moves up to #1 and UGA fell to #5. OSU had a much better off week don’t you think. How do you think OSU would have reacted if instead of moving up to #1 the actually fell to #4?

    ESPN was very effective in swaying voters. On top of that Bob Stoops at OU voted UGA at #10 and OU at #2. Do youthink he had a motive to vote that way? The whole system sucks and Coaches shouldn’t vote. How many games other than their own and those of the teams they are playing do you really believe they see? My guess is very few – they have very time consuming jobs during fooball system.

    If you were a coach and were looking to vote for the teams in your poll, where would you look for easy information on the teams you are to vote on?

    If you were ESPN who is owned by Disney along with ABC who has their own contracts with conferences, which teams would you push and give extra time to?

    Everybody is going to look at the bottom line. They really don’t care about fairness, just what is best for me. Cynical I know but what can you do?


  7. CGabriel says:

    Ted: You make some interesting points. Mind you, I respectfully don’t agree with them but it all makes for good debate. And at the end of the day, you’re making the exact case I wrote about. In your conspiracy theory, it’s ABC/ESPN/Disney that controls everything but the International Space Station. At last check, Notre Dame is on NBC; regardless of appearances on ABC and ESPN, it’s NBC that’s doing wonders for ND’s bank account. Had ND/NBC been #4, how would it have benefitted ABC/ESPN/Disney to have them in the BCS championship game . . . on Fox? In your scenario, what would ABC/ESPN/Disney have to gain with ND? Nothing. Pollsters would have been acting on their own rather than listening to the hypnotic suggestions from ABC/ESPN/Disney to get one of their own into the Superdome. I’m not suggesting ND isn’t wildly popular; obviously, they are. But in your scenario, it doesn’t add up.

    And considering the game is on Fox, did Fox and ABC/ESPN/Disney officials huddle in a secluded backroom in Topeka while on a conference call with voters across the nation to broker the LSU-Ohio State championship game?

    If ABC/ESPN/Disney were the puppetmasters you believe they are, it stands to reason they would have done whatever they needed to do to find a way to get USC into the championship game. You want bottom line, here it is: SC has massive national appeal with respect to advertising dollars potential and proven ratings power; far more than either Ohio State and LSU. Ohio State and LSU are both high-profile programs with great tradition and followings, but they’re not in the same glamour/prestige/”bring in the money” neighborhood USC lives in. And there are as many voters who loathe ESPN as there are ones who like the network. Point being, there’s a huge group of voters in every region of the nation that will never . . . never . . . bow to the perceived desires of ESPN.

    For me, all of this, or most of this, would be moot if there were an eight team playoff.


  8. SECFan says:


    Maybe the ‘media pundits’ are so defensive about the charges of their promotion of those conferences that they have contracts with because their is more than just a grain of truth to them. Do I believe that ABC/ESPN executives sit around scheming conspiracies against the SEC? No, but I do believe that a part of their job is to promote the games that they are showing across their various media properties and that the majority of the games
    that they show are Big 10, Pac 10 and Big 12 games. Further, because of the time zone differences on the west coast(where I live, btw) and the Big 10 programming area, it is only natural that there is going to be more coverage of Big 10 games and Big 10 programs than other schools. This is common sense, not a conspiracy, but it is also REALITY and not PERCEPTION.

    Most of the gripes are not about USC and the Pac 10, or the Big 12, but about the Big 10, a conference whose commissioner has stood in the way of a playoff system and who has stood on his high horse claiming moral and academic superiority of the Big 10 over the SEC.

    Ask yourself 2 questions and answer them honestly:

    1) Does the ABC/ESPN/Disney network have a financial interest in the success of the Big Ten as a football conference?
    2) Did ESPN actively promote a Ohio State vs. Michigan rematch for the 2006 BCS Championship game, only to see the winner of that game get dominated by Florida?

    The bottom line is that the SEC has spanked the Big 10 champion in the NC game 2 straight years and ESPN/ABC has egg all over their face. All of this spin by ‘pundits’ that their is no bias is only an attempt to cover up the shame of the last few years of shoving the supposed superiority of the Big 10 down the throats of an unwilling public.

    Good luck to OSU – there’s always next year!


  9. Slickeer says:

    They pretend the Big East doesn’t even exist until we do something that makes the conference look bad…


  10. Eric says:

    Chris makes a good point. We are probably all guilty of selective listening. The verbal slights against our team do ring more loudly than slights against others.

    That said, if the fan’s opinions are routed so deeply in their perception that they can’t see the truth, isn’t it possible that sports commentator’s perceptions (right or wrong) can influence how they tell a story – thereby introducing bias?


  11. Ted says:

    I was rolling and I went with it. I don’t believe there is some vast conspiracy – headed by ESPN or any other individual or organization. I agree with SECfan. The point with ESPN is basically – they are very inconsistent. They spout off whatever they think sounds good at the time – the the same “expert” will contradict himself within days if not the same day.

    I do believe they are going to play up whoever they have contracts with. As they basically have some sort of contract with every conference including the SEC, at one point or another everyone gets pushed by them. During the regular season CBS is going to get the top SEC game every week and ESPN will usually get the next level SEC game for one of thier networks at night. ABC/ESPN has regional games with just about anybody else in the country (excluding ND home games). It makes since for them to push games other than the games not on their network. Cyncism again – it’s about the money.

    With 119 Div 1-A teams in the country – there is really no way to say any one team is better than another definitavly. This season alone you could say LSU/USC/UGA/Mizzu was the best team at the end of the year. Before the bowls you could say OU/VT as well. Most college football fans would love to some playoff I believe.

    Regarding how the end of the regular season shook out, do you believe it was handled the right way (within the system itself). I actually believe they got the right 2 teams in the game, but had to turn themselves inside out to do it. They basically re-seeded the top 10. The well established precedent is for teams to move up when the teams ahead of them lose. Based on the way the polls were the week before the conference championship games tradition and precedent says the BCSCG should have been OSU v UGA. However, LSU jumped from 7 to 2 to play in the game. The merits for this jump could only be based on what happened during championship weeek. LSU beat UT 21-14 while receiving gift interceptions from Eric Ainge. It wasn’t a particulary impressive victory but it game them the conference championship. VT jumped similarly after their less than impressive victory over BC. OU jumped up as well based on their very good win over Mizzu. If any of those teams deserved a big jump at that point OU would have been the team. OSU and UGA were both idle and sitting at #3 and #4 respectively during this time and the point differential between the two was very small. For some reason OSU was able to jump from 3 to 1 while UGA fell from 4 to 5. If you had reversed the results of OSU and UGA and the rankings I wonder what would have happened? I defy anybody to tell me that ND wouldn’t have played in BCSCG if the had been in UGA’s position. The point of bringing up ND is that the main reason that I heard to keep UGA out was that they didn’t win their conference. ND doesn’t have a conference and that couldn’t be used against them. If the SEC worked under the same rules as the Big 10 UGA would have finshed as Co-champs with LSU and UT at 6-2 in conference. If that were the case I doubt LSU would have made their unprecedented jump. Now, if the Big 12 also played under the Big 10 rules, OU and MU would have won the conference and the problem would have been who should play in the BCSCG – MU/OSU or should UGA take one of the spots.

    The reason there is no rule for conference championships is that the conferences work under different rules.

    The reason we won’t have a playoff is based on how the pie is split. The BCS conferences get a disproportianate share of the pie (which they deserve becasue they are the one who built up the sport). So about 60 schools get the bulk of the money and the other 59 do not. If they went to a playoff the money would then have to be spit evenly. The BCS are not going to give up the deals they have.

    What should happen is there should only be 60 teams in Div 1A, and they should be divided into five 12 team conferences. Have an 11 game season with each team playing 9 games in conference (really like that about the Pac10) and 2 out of conference games. Each conference determines their winner by CCG. Then you set up a 6 team playoff with the 5 conference champs and one at large. Then you seed from a neutral group (I would suggest a panel of retired coaches) and the top 2 get a bye. It will never happen but we can dream.

    Dang, I am tired of typing – sorry for the novel


  12. CGabriel says:

    Ted: As far as your national championship match-up question (do I believe the right two teams made it), and basing it on the current system, it is the ultimate “hindsight is 20-20”; I could write another blog on that alone. The short answer is this: I don’t believe LSU was better than USC. And as I previously mentioned in BCS “Championship” Game Proves Little, count me in the camp that wants a playoff.


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