The Big Ten and the Pac-12 are doing everything they can to kill the SEC’s season.
They have no other choice.
Their decision to cancel their own college football seasons has put themselves in impossible positions. Much talk has centered around the financial losses they face.
Then there is the competitive fallout. Not playing this year, they face the prospect of having unusually high numbers of transfers and NFL early entries. From a branding standpoint, if the SEC, ACC and Big 12 play anything close to a full season it will cement the position of the other conferences in the minor leagues of college football.
So pay attention. Pay very close attention because no one should think for a second the Big Ten and Pac-12 are not waging a relentless public relations offensive to get the other conference seasons canceled. Their continued viability in college football depends on it.
What is taking place right now has every appearance of being a coordinated effort. Sensing the same, CBS Sports writer Barrett Sallee remarked on Friday, “Expect a bunch of ‘sources’ from Big Ten and Pac-12 country to do all that they can to make sure that the SEC, ACC and Big 12 don’t play football this fall.”
Coaches and administrators in the Big Ten and Pac-12 did not even feel the need to hide their identities when criticizing the conferences which chose not to prematurely bail on the season. Oregon State president King Alexander said the SEC’s plan was not based in reality and was instead a “big gamble.” Washington head coach Jimmy Lake confidently remarked that the SEC, ACC and Big 12 would very soon follow his conference’s lead in cancelling the season. Expert showman and head coach of Minnesota, P.J. Fleck, declared that his players uniformly support the decision to cancel the season.
Undoubtedly some rare criticism toward other schools and conferences. But there are other actors gunning for the SEC and its fall season.
Happily playing the role of Jules and Vincent is sports media.
The barrage of scary news and scorn from sports media started early. First there was the leaked health report which sports media thought settled the issue. Never mind that there are renowned physicians who have publicly attached far less importance to the report. The reported condition, known as myocarditis, can result from any infection, including seasonal flu, hepatitis and bacterial infections. It has been on the radar of sports medicine professionals for years.
Longtime college football writer Tony Barnhardt took to his keyboard to sound the alarm but waited until the sixth paragraph in his story to mention some respected doctors had vastly differing views on the subject.
College football writers at the Associated Press, the Charlotte Observer and Sports Illustrated swarmed all over the comments of a doctor who likened the college football season to the Titanic. In a sure sign of a story being deliberately pushed to all corners, Politico, the Washington, D.C.-based political news site, ran with it.
Columnist Pat Forde has dropped any pretense of fairness and has taken to call the conferences yet to cancel their seasons “The Stubborn Six,” as if a conference being methodical and thoughtful is now somehow considered bad. A sports media allegedly committed to player safety is now falling all over itself to write about the virtues of a spring season. ESPN’s Rece Davis, a University of Alabama graduate and outlier in the industry, has called the idea of a spring season “ludicrous.” Fox Sports host Colin Cowherd devoted about one minute of a three-hour show to saving Big Ten commissioner Keith Warren’s job, equating his work to that of NBA commissioner Adam Silver. It was a half-hearted effort but enough to show his network’s Big Ten partner he at least tried.
The winner in the sports media race to cancel the SEC’s season might be the writer who penned, presumably with a straight face, a piece declaring that the SEC should compromise with the Big Ten and the Pac-12 by, wait for it, adopting the Big Ten and Pac-12’s plan for a spring season. Redefining the meaning of the word “compromise”? Whatever it takes to make sure the SEC does not play football this year.
The methods may vary when attempting to “take care” of the SEC’s season. One-sided health reports have been popular from the start. Making a spring season sound like the greatest invention since the internet has been popular among those who do not like to get their hands dirty.
Next up on the sports media hit list will be a hard push to delegitimize a national championship. They are going to want players and fans to feel as if they are playing for nothing in the fall despite the fact that 14 out of the last 15 national championships were won by teams still planning to play.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and his member institutions have actively conferred with the nation’s most respected medical professionals every step of the way. The reality, unlike what Oregon State’s president thinks, is that the SEC has been deliberate, patient and careful. While not an approach that makes good headlines, it is the correct approach and a result of steady leadership.
No one truly knows whether games will be played. What players, coaches and universities across the South can know is that the SEC has put itself in the best position possible to play.
In the meantime, watch your back, SEC.
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia