ESPN broadcasts often hypes the best college basketball players in the country, particularly the highest-touted one-and-done’s in recent years like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Ben Simmons (a formality to leave LSU after this season), as “green room” guys. This did not sit well with North Carolina Roy Williams, who was vocal in his dislike of the network’s reduction of the college game to who’s most apt for success at the next level.
Andrew Carter of the News & Observer, who compared this to Jim Mora’s ‘playoffs’ rant, transcribed:
“I think ESPN is (an ACC) partner, and I’ve got to watch on TV where somebody’s college basketball game and they’re talking about the freaking green room? That’s the most ridiculous thing. And that’s one of my partners? That’s half the damn broadcast: ‘Well, so-and-so’s in the green room.’ And this is a great time for me to be saying something about it. Because they ain’t mentioning any of my guys, OK.
But God almighty, you’re sitting there, you’re trying to win championships, and here it is, January, and ESPN’s talking about some green room and some Chad Ford or who it is and his (draft projections) – that’s the most ridiculous thing we’re having to put up with in college basketball. TV drives everything and again, hey, to all those other guys – get ‘em, take ‘em, go. They’re not talking about any of my guys. But that’s the reason why I feel more comfortable in saying something about it. But I mean, seriously, we’re trying to win conference championships, we’re saying college basketball means something.
The News & Observer has some more of the quote if you don’t have time to queue up the video, but that was the general gist of it. One one level, I can understand why Williams would be upset with this. A vast majority of Division I basketball players do not go on to the pros, and what these programs are doing in and of themselves—as opposed to what comes next—would be the primary focus in an ideal world. (Also, the Chad Ford dig was funny.)
However, Williams makes quite a bit of money on the backs of the talent and exposure of his players. On the margins, ratings depend heavily on casual observers tuning in, and it’s easy to see why ESPN relies on hyping longterm storylines for stars, who they will also be broadcasting if and when they do advance to the next level.