Scott D. Pierce: Can we trust ESPN to report on the BCS?
ESPN calls itself "the worldwide leader in sports." But is it also the most-trusted name in sports news?
Maybe not, given the conflicts of interest inherent in how the sports TV giant does business. When you have contracts with the NFL, NBA and major-league baseball when angering those entities could affect those contracts can you freely report negative news about them?
Polls show a large majority of college football fans want a playoff system, but can fans expect ESPN to be anything other than a cheerleader for the biggest roadblock to a playoff when it's in bed â¦ er, uh, in business with BCS?
Yes, according to a couple of the more prominent ESPN faces when it comes to college football.
"We've not been told by people in management or programming to shape our opinions based on the company's financial agenda," said "College GameDay" host Chris Fowler. "To me, complaints of favoritism or bias don't really ring true. And we've never had anybody come down and say, 'Hey, don't say this about the postseason format.' It just doesn't happen."
Lead analyst Kirk Herbstreit agreed, adding that ESPN viewers have heard a variety of on-air personalities express a variety of opinions about the Bowl Championship Series.
"We're not all, 'The system is wonderful. Hail to the BCS!' It's not like that at all," he said. "There are some people at our company who think the BCS is good, it's heading in the right direction, it's the best system we've had in the last 20 or 30 years.
"There's other people who think that it could be tweaked. There's other people who think that it needs to start all over."
Still, all but two of the 35 bowl games were telecast on an ESPN network this season. ESPN actually owns five bowls. ESPN is as invested in the current system as it could be.
At this point, major-college, FBS postseason football is darn near a wholly owned subsidiary of ESPN.
But Herbstreit and Fowler expressed doubts about the BCS. And, clearly, they weren't thinking about ESPN's bottom line when they did.
"I think the BCS is an improvement over the system that was in place," Fowler said. "I've been pretty vocal. I do favor, while you maintain the bowl system as much as you can, going to a playoff system and settling it on the field.
"I'm not sure of the best format. I think all of us have doubts about how all of the particulars would play out. But I think it would be very exciting. I think it would be very lucrative. I think the arguments against it aren't, frankly, very strong."
But he wants to do it within the bowl system. "I would like to see not just the championship, but all of the BCS bowl games have a bigger impact," Fowler said. "And I think a playoff would do that."
Herbstreit doesn't see a playoff coming anytime soon because "I just don't know if the [school] presidents and conference commissioners are even considering that at this point." But he does "think a plus-one would be maybe a more realistic answer.
He'd still put it in the hands of the BCS rankings, matching 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 in two of the big bowls, with the winners playing for the title.
And, of course, if it all played out on ESPN, well, neither Fowler nor Herbstreit would have any objection.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. His column on sports on TV appears Wednesday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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