Here we go again. The realignment debacle rages on. The latest twist in this endless cycle of greed might be the most telling nugget to-date. After a chat with the Boston Globe, Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo basically came out and said it was ESPN that was calling the shots on the ACC's expansion.
"We always keep our television partners close to us,’’ he said. "You don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 percent football money. TV - ESPN - is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball.’’
Surprised? Stunned? Mouth agape in utter disbelief? Then maybe you haven't been paying attention.
There's a vast difference between simply looking out for your own best interests and utilizing leverage to force someone, or something to conform to your personal agenda. And based on DeFilippo's comment, it appears that ESPN went down the latter path. The two parties signed a 12-year contract worth $1.86 billion last summer, and with all that cheddar on the line you might think ESPN would want some semblance of creative control, regardless of the magnitude. Getting Pittsburgh and Syracuse into the league now adds more money to each side. Another win-win.
With realignment already altering the landscape of college athletics, it's hard to believe that any passionate observer could be taken aback by this news. For as dirty and unethical as it might feel for a media company to influence something this important, this is pretty much how things work in our country right now. When big money is involved there's always somebody, or some entity behind the curtain pulling the strings. We've just got to deal with it.
Often times over these last few years I couldn't help but notice the biases in play when it came to ESPN's coverage of the Big East. The two shared a lucrative partnership of course, and from ESPN's angle it made the most sense to pump up Big East teams as much as possible. And while I'm no conspiracy theorist, there were times when even ESPN's weekly coaches polls gave upcoming Big Monday combatants a noticeable, albeit slight, bump in the rankings when the AP Poll didn't. Even if this was all one big coincidence (and it probably was/is), if this were actually the case, would people even be surprised at this point? It's hard to say.
The problem here is that it's awfully hard to fault ESPN from a business perspective, and after all, this is still a business we're talking about. This company has achieved a near-monopoly status in the world of sports, and they absolutely relish in it. We don't truly know how another entity would handle this type of stuff because there hasn't been a sports media company that has even come close to ESPN in the digital age.
Big conferences need ESPN. They need the live events. They need the highlights. They need the exposure. And while ESPN probably deserves to be scolded for overstepping the bounds that we ultimately perceive for them, re-routing a few schools to the conference of their choice in an effort to make more money for both sides isn't the most heinous thing imaginable.
It's a shame that we've come to this. But that's just how it is.