I don’t usually join the sports-fan horde, but at this moment I’m going to. Because in this instance, the horde is on to something.
K-State clobbered LSU in the Texas Bowl Tuesday night in a game shown on ESPN. It was quite an effort by the ‘Cats, beating a team that had won the national championship only two years before. Granted, this LSU roster was decimated by transfers, suspensions, and players who elected not to play – and the coach was a one-game fill-in. Still, the LSU scout squad probably has more NFL talent on it than most D-1 programs.
The final score was 42-20, with one garbage-time touchdown making it seem closer than it was. But in any game, there are important moments where it swings one way or another, and one of two in this game occurred in the second quarter. LSU threw an interception, and K-State quickly drove for a touchdown. Suddenly, because of that interchange, the whole framework of the game was different than it had been.
Not that you would have known any of that by listening to the television play-by-play guy, or his analyst sidekick.
They were tied up that key passage conducting a live interview with Brian Kelly. He’s the next LSU head coach, the guy they hired away from Notre Dame with a 10-year, $95-million contract. Kelly was not coaching the game.
That interview, in fact, was probably the most newsworthy item out of the game, as far as the national media are concerned. I can understand that. Kelly poked fun at himself for faking a southern accent when he was first introduced in Baton Rouge. Although it was all softball questions, it was certainly worth reporting.
Here’s the thing: Surely ESPN had a choice of when it wanted to conduct that interview. They could have trotted Kelly into the booth during halftime, and they would have gotten the same blather from him. And what else did he have to do? Get some jambalaya at the concession stand?
Why did they put him on during the game itself, in the second quarter when the outcome was very much in doubt, before half the audience switched it off and put the kids to bed?
That question answers itself.
Kelly, and ESPN, and for that matter LSU and its conference – the mighty, mighty SEC – wanted the interview during a moment of maximum possible exposure.
This brings us back to a point I’ve made many times in the past year: College football is a television show.
ESPN has a giant contract for the rights to broadcast SEC games, and Brian Kelly is one of the principal actors in the drama that they’ll be putting on their channel for several years to come. ESPN will be paying out about $68 million per year per school in the SEC. You could contend that Kelly, more or less, works for ESPN, with SEC and LSU just acting as intermediaries.
Some mop-up bowl between the LSU JV and a mid-level Big 12 team? Pfft. Get Kelly on the air! It’s like a self-promo for the 2022 season.
I will say this: It’s not like I really missed the announcers. I could see for myself what was going on, and it’s not like these guys were Tony Romo, or even Joel Klatt. (With those guys, I feel like I actually get smarter watching games. With most others, I just keep a tally of how many times they say something ridiculous, like “physicality.”)
K-Staters often see a conspiracy, or some way in which the powers-that-be have it in for us. That’s usually not true. In this case, although it’s not in any way relevant to the outcome of the game, it’s dead-on. The powers-that-be conspired, and in the process made completely clear – again – that the game itself is not the priority. It’s all at root a television show.