This coming weekend’s television show called “college football” will feature your local cast against the one that’s been rehearsing in Stillwater. The game itself will be staged at Oklahoma State, in front of a bunch of extras called “fans,” but what evidently matters most is what the directors have decided.
That decision is to put the show on a crummy channel, the one that viewers have to pay extra for and stream online. It’s ESPN+, which features announcers nobody’s heard of. And of course that is a slap in the face for the actors, err, players.
K-State sophomore cornerback Tee Denson said in an interview after last weekend’s show that the decision really stuck in his craw, and that of the whole cast. “They had us on ESPN+ this week, ESPN+ next week and that’s conference play and we’re both 3-0...We just take it with a grain of salt and keep a chip on our shoulder...”
OK, look. As a K-State fan, I’ve always liked it when we were the underdogs. It fits with our sense of self here in Manhattan, and it’s better to be the hunter than the hunted anyway. But I’m accustomed to the issue being, say, the polls, or the spread in Vegas, or...something other than the choice of television network that the game is going to air on.
The reason I’m pondering this at the moment is because it’s indicative of something larger. The Big 12 Conference, as you might recall, contends that ESPN was manipulating conference realignment, moving Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big 12 and into the SEC, and then attempting to get other schools to leave the conference to collapse it. I believe the Big 12’s assertion, although I’m waiting for the proof to surface.
ESPN is fundamentally a monopoly. Or at least it acts like one.
That’s because it can. It owns the show called “college football.” Heck, it almost owns the show called “sports.”
College football players want their team’s games to be on ESPN, and they want their highlights to appear on Sports Center because that’s what gives them cred with their fellow 19-year-olds around the country. It’s not enough to win, and it’s not enough to be really good — what matters most is that your win is hyped up and your highlight is shown in super slo-mo 27 times, and those talking-head guys talk about your “athleticism” and make you a “hot take” about something.
So those kids sign with schools whose games are going to be on ESPN, and those schools know it, and so do other schools, and so does ESPN.
The Big 12 doesn’t want to sue ESPN for interference with its contracts, since ESPN is its biggest source of revenue. The only way all of this will get untangled is if there are Congressional hearings. Sen. Jerry Moran called for such hearings a month ago, but it’s been radio silence since then.
The urgency is also diminished since the Big 12 announced it was adding four more schools, meaning the league’s future is solidified, at least for a bit, until KU’s flirtation with some other conference turns into a divorce. The risk to towns like Manhattan and Stillwater is lower now than it was a few weeks ago, and at this point everybody just wants to talk about who’s going to win the game.
Everybody except the cast in the show. They’re grumbling about which network their show will be on.
Remember, that’s what’s most important.