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Breaking: ESPN is Not Biased Against Your Favorite Team

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It's a time honored tradition: claiming ESPN is biased against your favorite team.  Members of this community indulge in this on a regular basis.  For instance, there's the "ESPN is biased against Texas" sentiment, frequently accompanied by the more severe "ESPN hates Texas" accusation, occasionally complimented backhandedly with the "I'm surprised at how unbiased ESPN is being" comment, all supplemented by the rare but endlessly amusing, batshit insane charge, such as "the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll is biased simply by virtue of being associated with ESPN even though no one from ESPN has any vote whatsoever."  That one's my favorite.

But not only is it absurd to claim bias against Texas of all schools, it's just not true to claim any bias whatsoever for or against any team.  ESPN is not biased against your favorite team.  This isn't to absolve ESPN of its sins, which are myriad; it is just to say that ESPN cares about nothing but its bottom line.  This focus on the business aspect of its sports empire sometimes seeps into the entertainment and news aspects of the ESPN operation, which is not a good thing, but claims of bias are ridiculous, as today's endless hyping of the OJ Mayo/USC violations demonstrates pretty clearly.

The thrust of the "ESPN is biased against Texas" sentiment stems from the lead-up to the Rose Bowl between USC and Texas during which ESPN held its infamous "Is USC the greatest team of all time?" online poll/fodder for talking heads shows.  Undoubtedly, this was a terrible idea to which Texas fans rightfully took offense and from which the team gained strength.  But it also lead to a lot of dumb "ESPN is biased in favor of USC" comments as well.  These persist to this day, and they're just as dumb today as they were then.

But if that was true, would the network and accompanying website be hammering this "OJ Mayo took benefits while at USC" story nearly as much as it has, including Pat Forde's incendiary column?  Hell, the ESPN show "Outside the Lines" is the group that did all the investigatory work to unearth this story.  They're the ones that broke it.  And that feeds into my point.  ESPN is hyping this story to no end precisely because they're the ones behind it.  They have no over-arching reverence for USC, just as they have no bias against Texas.  If they did have some editorial bias in favor of USC, they would be burying the story to minimize its impact.  They wouldn't have even investigated the story in the first place.  But their only bias is in favor of ratings.  And what gets ratings?  Big names, sensational stories, and exclusive content, particularly if those things occur in large media markets.

ESPN focuses a lot of attention on USC because they're hugely successful, have a lot of stars, and are located in the second largest TV market in the country.  ESPN focused a lot of attention on Rutgers in their undefeated run 2 years ago not because they have an East Coast bias, but because it was a rags to riches story of a terrible program going on a magical run, combined with the fact that nearby NYC is a largely untapped market for college football and the fact that Rutgers played a lot of games on ESPN that year.  Talking a lot about Rutgers and hyping it as a good story had nothing to do with an East Coast bias.  It had everything to do with increasing ratings for their broadcasts and hits on ESPN.com.  This is the same reason they hype Red Sox/Yankees so much, often to the exclusion of attention to other teams.  And lest we forget that when Kevin Durant was here, the Texas basketball team got much more positive attention than such a mediocre team deserved simply by virtue of having a star player with a great story.

Ideally, ESPN would keep its News, Entertainment and Business operations separate, primarily so that the latter two would not affect the editorial decisions made by the News division.  That they don't do this adequately enough is the sin of ESPN, not that they have a bias against your favorite team.  Can we please place a moratorium on these absurd claims?  Talking about how sports is covered is sometimes just as much fun and interesting as talking about the sports themselves, but let's try to do it intelligently.  Let's talk about why a story is being reported one way rather than wildly accusing people and organizations of bias every time they disagree with you.  Deal?