ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported Notre Dame was moving its non-football sports to the ACC from the Big East. This story was picked up by Sportscenter. Sportscenter sent out a parade of Notre Dame-affiliated ESPNers trumpeting how great the move was for the school and the conference. When bringing up the new $50 million ACC exit fee, anchor Chris McKendry, asked, with a laugh, “why would anyone want to leave the ACC?”
Not mentioned, however, was that ESPN is not an unbiased observer offering objective analysis. The network has a $3.6 billion long-term television contract with the ACC. Notre Dame enhances the value ESPN extracts from that deal. Moreover, losing Notre Dame detracts from the Big East which (a) turned down a previous extension from ESPN (b) has a negotiating window presently with ESPN and (c) may soon end up the asset of one of ESPN’s competitors.
The WWL has waged an active campaign to promote the ACC. ESPN pumped the clash between ACC titans “Florida State vs. Virginia Tech” as a marquee college football matchup during the up-fronts. It has analysts including the ACC in a “big five” despite a significant disparity, in revenue, football success and political power, between them and the “big four” other analysts discuss. We now have ESPN personalities all but gloating about an ACC addition at the expense of conference, that just had its negotiating position with ESPN further weakened and may soon be unaffiliated.
ESPN has been criticized in the past for obscuring its own pivotal role in conference realignment. With Notre Dame’s move to the ACC, we have yet one more example. In journalism ethics even the possibility of an interest conflict is worth mentioning. ESPN has a tangible, material one that proceeds unacknowledged.
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