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Gazzolo Column: Good for the SEC, bad for everybody else

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 08, 2013 10:11 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

College football makes strange bed fellows.

Last week the big news was ESPN and the SEC have joined forces and create yet another sports network.

The duo will create the SEC Network, which is set to debut in August of 2014.

Smart move by both parts.

This could propel the SEC into an even bigger deal nationally.

All over the Midwest, and now some places in the East, Big Ten officials are kicking themselves for letting the big fish get away.

Actually, it is more like the Big Ten, which at last count was about to have 14 teams and still not changing its name, threw this one back.

Not so long ago it was the Big Ten which had all its games plastered over the ESPN family of networks, or so the big boys in Bristol call themselves.

Almost every game, minus the Indiana-Minnesota debacle, could be watched live as the conference proclaimed itself America’s league, or at least tried to act like that.

Then, looking a gift horse in the mouth, the Big Ten stuck its foot in its own and created a network for itself. It plays in Peoria, but not so much outside the region.

With the giant void in the ESPN schedule, the SEC swooped in, bringing along its run on national championships.

SEC games already fill ESPN’s weekend screens, but now the two sides have tied the knot on their relationship.

“We believe this conference has national appeal,” said John Skipper, ESPN president. “This is a national network. This is not a regional network. We understand that in the 11-state footprint is where the most passionate fans are, but there are a lot of SEC fans in California and Texas and New York and Connecticut and Virginia and Nebraska.”

There might be, but I do believe there are more USC fans in Los Angeles and more Cornhusker fans in Lincoln than say Ole Miss followers or Vandy watchers.

But hey, I could be wrong.

This does give more power to the powerful.

Already loaded, the SEC will now enter homes it never could before, meaning kids will be watching and finding new schools to follow and dream of one day playing for.

It sure looks like a win for the league.

And the gifts will just keep on giving.

The rest of college football will have to watch as ESPN’s marketing crew pulls hamstrings promoting the new network and the teams which will play on it.

Think about it.

Alabama is getting set to play Florida in a big game. With all of its influence, ESPN college football “experts” will say these are perhaps the best two clubs in the country.

Forget both lost the week before, we have to hype the prime-time game our new partner is featuring.

It seems like that has already happened.

ESPN airs a good portion of the SEC’s games already, meaning it has a giant interest in what those teams are ranked. Sure is easier to promote a 1 vs. 2 game as the battle of the year over a 2 vs. 5.

Don’t believe this will happen? Just look at history.

Back when the NHL was on ESPN, the network bent over backwards to give us hockey news. Since the league became broadcast partners with NBC and its family, Barry Melrose is a sideshow.

All of which is good for the SEC and bad for everybody else. Of course, that is until the backlash hits.

That, too, has happened before.

A few years back ESPN shoved NASCAR down the throats of the rest of America and the sport raced into new towns, new tracks and got a lot of new sponsors.

Even Southern California had two sold-out races a year at a track built just for those weekends.

Of course, NASCAR became national and its original fan base got more than a little upset. Drivers from other parts of the country starting winning and Jeff Gordon became a villain.

Now, NASCAR only goes to Southern California once a year and it doesn’t always sell out.

It happens.

College football and the SEC are on a roll right now. It is the perfect time for ESPN to jump into the even deeper end of the pool.

But I’m not sure the average Joe in Spokane is ready to watch Georgia vs. Florida in women’s gymnastics.

Even that might be asking too much.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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