Why the ESPN-SEC Conspiracy is Nonsense

Alex Kirby FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

The release of the first playoff rankings for 2014 saw three of the top four spots being taken — not surprisingly — by SEC West teams, and the other by the unbeaten defending national champion Florida State Seminoles. It also saw its fair share of fan conspiracy theories, especially from those fan bases whose team is currently on the outside looking in.

One of the most persistent arguments made by college football fans around the country is that ESPN and the SEC are somehow in league together to artificially boost the rankings in favor of the college football powerhouses down south at the expense of other quality teams such as Oregon, Michigan State or Notre Dame. (IMHO, there’s a special kind of irony in hearing Irish fans complain about anyone being overrated – but that’s another argument for another day.)

Heck, even Jimbo Fisher got caught up in all the fun this week when he complained about a conspiracy involving ESPN, the SEC and the Rothschilds that had managed to turn everyone in the country against Jameis Winston and the Seminoles as opposed to, you know, that other thing.

Pictured: The leaders of a vast underground conspiracy

Pictured: The leaders of a vast underground conspiracy.

It takes a special kind of selective ignorance to look at the current rankings where Mississippi State, of all programs, sits at No. 1 and thinks the television networks had anything to do with them being there. I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that when the network executives get together to talk about the latest ratings, the guy at the head of the table cuts off the conversation halfway through and demands to see the numbers for the affiliate out of Starkville.

The only SEC team in the Top 4 with any modicum of a national brand or viewership outside of their area is Auburn and even that pales in comparison with teams such as Alabama, the Ducks and the Golden Domers.

In any case, if there were such a conspiracy in place, Duck fans would have nothing to worry about. Do you have any idea how long college football fans in this country have wanted to watch Alabama vs Oregon? What about Notre Dame-Oregon? You really think that wouldn’t draw in the advertising dollars?

Chris Fowler addressed the issue bluntly on College GameDay recently, noting that the best thing for ESPN would be to have a team from each area of the country in the playoff for ratings purposes — not four teams within a few hundred miles of one another.

The only thing worse than someone who won’t shut up about conspiracy theories is someone who won’t shut up about sports conspiracy theories. I should know because living in Indianapolis. I spent most of the ’90s and early Y2Ks listening to Pacer fans complain that David Stern had it out for small market franchises and had arranged things with the officials to make sure Indiana never won a championship. The theory was that Stern was out to make sure that only large television markets advanced in the playoffs because, as you know, the Knicks have been amazing forever.

You can argue with me until you’re blue in the face about conspiracy theories and bias from the national media, but the simple fact is that if you play in a power conference and win every game, you’re in, no questions asked. At the beginning of the season each team controls their own destiny and what they do from there is up to them.

Next on the list of criteria appears to be Strength of Schedule. There’s a legitimate argument to be made in favor of limiting the number of FCS and minor conference opponents on the schedule of every power conference team, but the fact remains that, like it or not, the SEC is still the toughest conference in America. That doesn’t necessarily mean that an SEC team will win it all come January, but no objective person can disagree with recent history.

I wouldn’t worry about the Ducks, either. One of these Top 4 teams is going to get knocked out (my pick is Ole Miss) and Oregon will be right where they should be. Then, when the best of the Pac-12 meets the best of the SEC, we’ll finally be able to get past all the conjecture, all the speculation and decide this question where it’s supposed to be decided: on the field.

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