ESPN monopolizes college sports. It dominates bowl coverage. It shapes the dreams of players who want to be on highlights. It controls national and regional exposure for teams. It's "windows" are desperately fought over by conferences and teams eager for exposure for their teams and the recruiting advantages that such exposure brings.
The fundamental point to remember in all this is that ESPN does not care about student athletes. Despite the palaver and player of the game scholarships and pious platitudes and the great NCAA commercials, ESPN wants PRODUCT and ENTERTAINMENT. (Please excuse all the capitals, it's not my normal style, but this is IMPORTANT, blast it.)
Product and entertainment--can ESPN produce good product to gain eyeballs and market share. This translates into profits for ESPN and visibility and recruiting success for the schools and conferences. Fair enough, except for the fact that for ESPN they are not students, barely athletes, only product and eyeballs. Have you noticed the proliferation of football games to every night of the week. And during basketball season, you have Big 15 Monday; Little Midwest Tuesday; Atlantic Whatsit Wednesday.
Mens' basketball and football are the two most academically challenged and vulnerable teams in collegiate sports. Missed class time is disastrous for these teams. One of the strong advantages of the Thursday - Saturday or Friday - Sunday schedules for basketball is that it minimizes lost class time. The great advantage of football on Saturdays is that most teams travel on Fridays and minimize lost class time. Helping under-prepared student athletes get an education requires focus, investment and continuous effort to socialize them into being students and not seeing them or treating them just as athletes. Their futures depend upon their ability to change their identification from athlete to student and from athlete to human being. ESPN does not care about this; ESPN does not care about missed class time; ESPN does not care that they make money off the most vulnerable and potentially exploited population of student athletes. They care about money, profits and maximizing the ratings. This drives coaches and Athletic Directors to care about maximizing exposure and taking the windows that ESPN offers; missed class time and student athlete welfare be damned.
The ESPN monopoly has entered a new phase with its groundbreaking contract with the SEC. This year each SEC teams receives over 11 million dollars off the top, before any season starts, to reimburse them for the rights to ESPN-SEC. This ginormous contract dwarfs anything seen before and maybe after for a conference. It answers the Big 10's initiative to create its own TV channel dedicated to Big-10 sports. Over the next three years the Big Easy, the ACC, the Big12 and the PAC-10 all come up for TV renewals. All will flirt with starting their own networks; all will use it as a ploy to pry more money from ESPN; very few will succeed since none have the fanatic market base the SEC has. But ESPN will remain the broker of intercollegiate sports, and the status of missed classes and the vulnerability of at risk student athletes will continue to suffer compared to the chance to get access to ESPN's windows.As I mentioned above, in the "second annual" (espn generates new traditions every week) 24 hours of basketball, schools lobbied and fought to get time slots like 6 AM designed to ensure students were exhausted for the rest of the day, and of course ESPN chose a class day, Tuesday, but teams scrambled to miss class time and get the exposure.
The devil always offers what you most want. College sports programs want exposure, money and glory; ESPN offers all three, all you have to do is give them your soul.
(Images courtesy of secblogger.com & betweenthepoles.wordpress.com)