Wednesday, July 20, 2011


ESPN is suing The Ohio State University for withholding e-mail transcripts between former head football coach Jim Tressel and Jeannette (Pa.) businessman Ted Sarniak (former quarterback Terrelle Pryor's hometown mentor), claiming that the school is held by law to release any matters of public record.

As a journalist, I agree with the worldwide leader ... the university is obligated to cough up the e-mails. It simply doesn't constitute the "Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act" as Ohio State is deeming. This case has nothing to do with Pryor's education — it has all to do with a college football scandal.

What the university is doing, journalistically speaking, stinks.

But, the stench from ESPN's obsession with bringing down the Buckeyes football program is far more repugnant. I mean, why would ESPN be so intent on obtaining these documents that they would actually be willing to take the university to court?

Is it because they feel journalistically obligated to seek the truth and provide their readers and viewers with nothing but the cold hard facts? Or is it because Ohio State falling off the face of the college football landscape would be in the best interest of their company?

The prior would be a first ... the latter may be much closer to the truth.

Now, I'm not going to question the practices of any news organization when it comes to what they choose to cover, and how obsessively they choose to cover it. Again, journalistically speaking, that would be wrong of me.

However, I don't consider ESPN a "news organization." They're an entertainment company. It says so in their original letterhead — Entertainment Sports Programming Network (ESPN).

So, again ... what is ESPN's motivation for suing Ohio State, I ask?

One theory is, the Big Ten Conference — for which Ohio State is a member of — is in direct competition with ESPN's "entertainment programming."

Don't worry, I'll explain ...

The Big Ten — instead of signing an exclusive television deal with ESPN in the spring of 2004, when negotiations first began — created its own TV network (Big Ten Network), which airs a majority of its football and basketball games, as well as other "entertainment sports programming."

According to a recent story published in the Chicago Tribune, some hostility ensued between the Big Ten and ESPN during the negotiations.

ESPN — and then executive vice president of programming and production, Mark Shapiro — tried to "lowball" the Big Ten during the talks, according to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

"The shortest (negotiation) I ever had," Delany told the Tribune. "(Shapiro) lowballed us and said: 'Take it or leave it. If you don't take our offer, you are rolling the dice.'

"I said: 'Consider them rolled.'"

That spat eventually evolved into Delany creating the Big Ten Network a few years later. On top of that, Delany was still able to negotiate — with new executive vice president of programming and production, John Wildhack — a 10-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN, although not exclusively, and even expanded the conference to 12 teams with the addition of Nebraska, giving the Big Ten a larger, more prestigious college football market to play with.

The expansion also gave the Big Ten an opportunity to have a conference championship game, which will be aired by Fox for $20-25 million per game (for the first six years), beginning this season.

To make matters worse, or funnier — depending on whichever side you reside on — the Big Ten commish, following his record deals, sent a bottle of champagne and a note to Shapiro that read: "See, I did it!"

No doubt about it, Delany and the Big Ten won the battle against ESPN.

Even Shapiro will agree with that sentiment ...

"In terms of this deal with ESPN and bringing Nebraska in and launching the (Big Ten) network, (Delany) got the buffet," Shapiro told the Tribune. "To his credit, he got it all."

A company with the juice ESPN possesses isn't about to just sit back and let someone run roughshod over them. They, like any other powerful organization, will retaliate.

ESPN decided to do so by going after another (perhaps even more prestigious) power conference — the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The SEC was all ready to follow the Big Ten's lead and create their own network in 2009. That is, until ESPN gave them a record 15-year, $2.25 billion deal, as well as providing them with a de facto network called the "SEC Network."

The worldwide leader now has their cake ... and are looking to eat it, too.

You're probably asking what all of this has to do with ESPN's obsession with taking down Ohio State?

Well, ESPN hasn't really done a great job of hiding the fact that they favor the SEC. I would say they have about 2.25 billion reasons for doing so.

"The SEC is king!" Wildhack told the Orlando Sentinel after signing the SEC to ESPN. "This deal gives us an opportunity to associate ourselves with the preeminent athletic conference in the country. With all due respect to other conferences, there's a passion and a fervor here that is unique."

The Big Ten is the "king's" main competition, both in athletics and marketability.

Add to the mix that ESPN was bested by a boastful Delany in their TV negotiations, and there you have it — a motive to bring down the enemy.

That's where Ohio State comes in.

The Buckeyes' football program is the prize of the Big Ten. They are a money-making machine. They are what Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods is to Nike, Mario to Nintendo, George Washington to the dollar bill. They are the face of the conference, and one of the main reasons the network has been such a major success.

In order to take down the competition/enemy, you must eliminate its greatest asset ... while protecting your own. That's War 101, right?

So, when Ohio State commits an NCAA infraction, you don't just report the news ... you sensationalize it. When Jim Tressel withholds information to the NCAA about player violations, you report it as if he withheld Soviet secrets from the United States government during the cold war.

When players trade their personal belongings for tattoos, you report it is as if they are one step away from overthrowing the government.

When some yahoo, who won't release his identity, comes out and says he witnessed Pryor making thousands of dollars a week selling autographs, you make a special out of it. 

It's funny how anything that happens at Ohio State gets plastered all over their channels, radio and website. Shoot, they provided in-depth coverage on a high school prospect — Lakewood St. Edward lineman Kyle Kalis — de-committing from Ohio State and offering a verbal to Michigan. Kalis is rated as the 138th player on ESPN's Top 150.

Not exactly a newsworthy story ... well, unless of course it's about the enemy (Ohio State).

It wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for ESPN being so blatant with whom they choose to attack.

They bomb OSU for not imposing a bowl ban or reducing scholarships, as if any other school does that. We have to listen to talking heads like Mark May, Pat Forde and Colin Cowherd, ad nauseam, cry about OSU players not being banned by the NCAA from playing in the Sugar Bowl — which anybody outside of Ohio, Arkansas and New Orleans could care less about — but allow the Cam Newton scandal at Auburn to just fade away into oblivion because he was on his way to a national title and a Heisman Trophy.

ESPN will provide coverage — again, ad nauseam — on Oregon illegally paying a recruiting service to bag players, but will only add a blurb the size of a Monopoly thimble piece when it was found that the same company also performed services for LSU. (For those that do not know, LSU is a member of the SEC. The same SEC that ESPN has deemed "king" and has invested a "king's" ransom into.)

Protect your assets, right? Investigating the SEC too thoroughly would be a conflict of interest. 

Would ESPN have provided such microscopic coverage if OSU showed up on the same recruiting service invoice? I think you know the answer to that question.

Back to my theory ...

It seems that ESPN wants to pile it on Ohio State so thick that the NCAA feels obligated to give them the death penalty. ESPN is like the alien invaders in the motion picture, Independence Day, when the President asks what they wanted the earthlings to do for them ...

The alien creature simply replied, "Die! Die!"

If you don't think the propaganda machine at ESPN is strong enough to make this happen, then I have some magic beans to sell you.

Texas Tech head football coach Tommy Tuberville knows what I'm talking about ... "ESPN has gotten so much power lately, it's kind of scary," he said at a luncheon in Montgomery, Alabama.

The bottom line is, ESPN certainly has motives for taking Ohio State to court, and it has very little to do with journalistic principle. It's simply about money (TV competition) and pride/power (Delany).

Again, it's just my theory ... nothing more.

If ESPN doesn't agree with it?

Oh well ... they can sue me.