When news and entertainment media collide

Columbia Journalism Review on ESPN’s conflicts of interest when it comes to college athletic conference realignment:

If you cover college sports for ESPN, you’ve got a real problem right now.

The biggest story these days is the conference realignment that’s bringing tectonic shifts to the NCAA landscape, ending century-old rivalries, and setting longtime partners at each others’ throats.

Problem is, ESPN itself is at the heart of why this is happening. Its Longhorn Network deal with the University of Texas kicked off the mess, sending Texas A&M to the SEC because they’re so mad about the deal, which gives Texas $300 million over twenty years, puts a conference game on the network, and wants to show high school games and highlights (ever seen a ticked-off Aggie? It’s not pretty). The idea of a school-only network played a role last year in sending the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the Big Ten. That helped lead Colorado to leave for the Pac-12 and left the Big 12 near death, having lost a quarter of its members, including two premier ones. The instability in the Big 12 and movement toward superconferences surely played a part in the ACC’s recent raiding of the Big East’s Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

The near-destruction of the Big 12 sent Oklahoma scurrying to the Pac-12 in the hopes of finding stability in the west with Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech (don’t ask me why OU, my alma mater, still wants to be in a league with UT, but that’s another story). On Tuesday, the Pac-12 said no thanks, in no small part because it was “appalled” at Texas, which insisted on retaining its $300 million TV deal with ESPN.

How has ESPN covered its own role in the fiasco this week? Poorly.

Read on for more details, but remember: ESPN is an entertainment outlet that sometimes pretends to be a news outlet. That is an important distinction to keep in mind.

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