The story of how ESPN is treating this Saturday’s Southern Conference showdown between the Wofford Terriers and the Furman Paladins is not a new story. It is not a complicated story. It is not a story which requires a great deal of explanation or background.
Yet, the story still needs to be told.
One of these days — or years, or decades — maybe people in charge of massive broadcasting outlets with considerable visibility and reach will try to cover a sport as a sport, instead of as a gated community where only the comfortable people are truly catered and tended to.
Just don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.
I cover tennis, for those of you who don’t know. I am the site editor and lead writer for Tennis With An Accent, at tennisaccent.com. ESPN’s coverage of tennis so often boils down to the Big 3 — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic — and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Any other matches during tournaments in which those five players are playing will almost always get overshadowed, even if the score is painfully lopsided.
Federer will lead a tomato-can opponent by a score of 6-2, 4-1, and yet ESPN will show that blowout instead of a much closer and more interesting match between two players with far less global name recognition.
If you’re covering a sport and not just the stars, you’ll show that other, closer match. ESPN has generally refused to do that. It offers streaming-based coverage of those other matches, but the main television match is the star match.
So it also is with college basketball, and this coming Saturday illustrates the point with great clarity.
For the true college basketball junkies — the people interested in the whole sport, not just the blue-blood programs — there is no better or bigger game this Saturday than Wofford versus Furman. Wofford is 15-0 in a Southern Conference many people think deserves to put THREE teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Wofford and Furman are two of those teams, and UNC-Greensboro is the third. Furman beat defending national champion Villanova in non-conference play and has lost only five games, one to LSU and one each to Wofford and UNC-Greensboro. The only truly bad loss on Furman’s resume is Samford, a middle-of-the-road team in the Southern Conference. The Paladins’ fifth loss is to East Tennessee State, which has won 21 games and is no joke, either.
15-0 Wofford versus Villanova-slaying Furman. It’s a fabulous matchup in the mid-major conference which has made the biggest splash this season in college basketball.
In a perfect world, two things would happen: One, ESPN College GameDay would go to Furman instead of its actual choice, Duke-Syracuse. Two, ESPN would at least broadcast Wofford-Furman in the 4 p.m. Eastern game window instead of relegating it to streaming on ESPN3.
Expecting perfection, though, is not part of a reasonable world.
Fine — give me just one of those two options. Either give Wofford and Furman their GameDay moment in the morning, or show their game on real television, not just streaming.
The other 4 p.m. Eastern time game options are Virginia Tech-Notre Dame, Oklahoma State-Kansas State, and Missouri-Florida, none of which are hugely attractive. Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Missouri are bad-to-mediocre teams this season.
Guess what, folks? ESPN went 0 for 2.
No one should expect 2 for 2, but to get neither College GameDay nor a regular TV game for Wofford-Furman is everything that’s wrong with mainstream sports coverage as ESPN has fashioned it.
ESPN would rather insist on fueling the Duke hype — and on showing the power-conference teams in the 4 p.m. Eastern window, than on giving the SoCon a deserved moment in the sun.
VT-Irish is an ESPN game at 4 Eastern. OSU-KSU is on ESPN2. Mizzou-Gators is on ESPNU.
We know this is how the world works. We know this story is very familiar and hardly surprising.
It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make this treatment of Wofford and Furman any easier to accept.
Let that point remain fully and firmly in place. We see you, ESPN. We still don’t like what you are doing.
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