In Women's College Basketball there is one media outlet that exclusively broadcasts the tournament while maintaining the most widely read website for the sport. This is the result of several weeks of research sparked by a widespread general opinion of ESPN's coverage of Women's College Basketball expressed on The SUmmiTT and a few other forums used by Lady Vol fans.
It is 17 miles from Bristol to the XL Center and 44 miles from Bristol to Storrs - the homes of the UConn Huskies. Doris Burke - Providence grad, Rebecca Lobo - UConn grad, Trey Wingo - Greenwich native, Graham Hays - Stonington resident, Beth Mowins - Syracuse grad, Charlie Creme - St Bonaventure upstate NY, and Michelle Jackson - Bristol resident . comprise the most visible of ESPN WCBB experts along with Michelle Voepel - Big 12, Kara Lawson - former Lady Vol but present Connecticut SUN and ESPN employee, and Carolyn Peck - NC winner at Purdue with ties to Florida and Tennessee. Does this proximity along with the affiliations of these major WCBB personalities contribute to a bias toward the BEast and UConn?
It may be difficult to view and read content from ESPN broadcasts and websites with enough detachment to correctly assess bias, but it appears to this Lady Vol fan that the bias toward the Big East in general and UConn in particular is overwhelming. The perception is so strong it has resulted in numerous threads on The SUmmiTT that decry the constant mention of UConn and Maya Moore by the ESPN coverage team no matter which teams happen to be playing the game in progress. The ESPN Drinking Game Thread is a recent example of this phenomenon
Playing the ESPN Drinking Game involves tossing back a measure of one's favorite beverage every time an ESPN talking head launches into gushing praise of UConn or a UConn player during the course of a game involving teams other than UConn or anytime some UConn video clip is played during these games and anytime the studio commentators do the same. Those who like to stay sober will not enjoy this game since there is an amazing amount of opportunity to imbibe - particularly if Doris Burke is anywhere in the vicinity of a microphone.
The ANATOMY OF AN NCAA WCBB BRACKETOLOGY PREJUDICE post back on March 5th was my initial effort to articulate some observations that were just coming in to focus. The emphasis on that limited (Bracketology) prejudice did not quite cover a situation that is far more pervasive. From the results thus far in the tournament it seems clear that the Big East did indeed deserve to have 9 teams included - if not the 10 or 11 that Charlie Creme and Burke, Peck and Jackson often claimed should have been. The Bracketology and the actual NCAA invitations are the effect - not the cause - of this ESPN.CONN bias
This A QUESTION OF BALANCE - the unbalanced Charlie Creme edition thread analyzes the ESPN website coverage following the announcement of the brackets and shows the astounding amount of attention paid to UConn and the Big East entries to the detriment of all other conferences and teams. There are links to 7 articles promoting UConn and Notre Dame vs zero mention of some other teams the first day after the brackets were released while 2 of 4 experts picked UConn to win it all and three chose Tennessee as the first one seed to be eliminated while Creme picked ND to replace UT in the Final Four. Taken alone any of those prognostications is reasonable but given the total imbalance in coverage it appeared to be a deliberate attempt to disrespect everyone but the BEast. Creme's DAYTON REGIONAL PRIMER highlighted the great guards in the region but failed to even mention Meighan Simmons - the AP "Newcomer of the Year" for the SEC and leading scorer for the ONE SEED.
It's interesting to read remarks like OSU coach Jim Foster's in the "FOSTER WON'T BE WEARING ORANGE" article where he says " Like everyone else, he sees top-ranked and two-time defending champion UConn as the clear front-runner overall in the tournament." It seems that Foster must get his opinion from ESPN since he seems to believe "everyone else" shares his opinion. Of course 'everyone else' thinks no such thing but you might get that idea if you read and watch ESPN.
The premise I wish to expound and discuss is this: Proposed: The proximity of ESPN to UConn and the Big East along with the affiliation and loyalties of the commentators employed by the network, website, and publications, has created a damaging bias and prejudice in the most influential media monopoly involved with Women's College Basketball to the detriment of every other conference and university in the USA.
I don't think anyone can argue that ESPN is the most influential media involved with WCBB and as far as the post season goes that media has an effective monopoly since ESPN and it's affiliated networks covers the NCAA tournament exclusively. Aside from a limited presence here on SB Nation and a few obscure Women's Basketball publications and websites there is very little internet presence that isn't specifically individual school oriented like Scout or Rivals or the websites of the athletic departments of the involved schools. This makes ESPN by far the most read and watched purveyor of WCBB in the world.
It is my hope that interested Tennessee fans at Rocky Top Talk and perhaps fans of other programs who follow SB Nation's Swish Appeal will join me in trying to assess the bias of ESPN (if you agree with me that such bias exists) in order to provide the other conferences and coaches compelling evidence that might encourage them to address this imbalance and compel ESPN to provide a fair and balanced coverage of the sport we enjoy. Now that you've become aware that someone thinks this might be a problem will you pay a little more attention to what you see and hear in order to confirm or refute my suspicions?
Here is why this is important : You're a 14 -18 year old HS player who wants to play WCBB
What do you watch and read in order to satisfy your interest in the sport you love?
What effect does that have on which conference and team you would like to consider?
Does ESPN coverage of the BEast or UConn give them an unfair advantage in your recruitment?
If it does what effect does that influence have long term on the sport of WCBB?
If what I presume here is true wouldn't you want your conference and your coach and her staff to be aware of the problem so they might be open to a solution?
is ESPN to the BEast as FOX is to the TEA PARTY?
Has ESPN become the equivalent of FOX News as promoter of Tea Party Rallies as a Public Relations arm of the Big East and UConn? FOX News has serious equivalent competition in the news business but there is no alternative for WCBB. CBSSports and ABC, NBC and FOXSPORTS cover Men's basketball and football but they do not offer any equivalent coverage of the women's sport. WCBB broadcasting is owned by ESPN.
Is there anything that can or should be done to try to mitigate this problem? Is the strength of the Big East this year just a cyclic phenomenon or are we seeing a shift in the balance of power from the SEC, ACC and Big 12 to the monster conference who's markets encompass a full third of the US population soon to be increased by the addition of TCU in the DALLAS FORT WORTH Market?
in addition: 18 of the 40 AP Poll voters live and work in Big East Markets while only 5 are located in SEC markets. When the ESPN and AP polls are voted on by more Big East affiliated voters does that create an unfair result?
I can admit to a serious Lady Vol bias so I ask you to visit the ESPN WCBB WEBSITE and read the links to the right of the main article to make your own evaluation of the situation and to view the games in the Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four with an ear to the commentators and the balance of their commentary to see if you perceive the same things I've been hearing and reading. I actually did a word count analysis of Michelle Voepel's TAYLOR MADE LOOK AT THE SWEET 16 to determine 220 words devoted to Tennessee vs 670 devoted to UConn. That's obviously borderline obsessive but it mirrors the method used by Media Matters and other media watchdog sites to measure fairness.
Isn't a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD the result we all wish to preserve in every college sport? Does having a billion dollar network as an effective public relations firm predominantly devoted to one conference and team constitute a threat to that illusion of fairness? What is more problematic - inviting a couple of Juniors to a barbeque or hearing your rival praised 24/7 on the nation's leading WCBB media outlet that gives private tours to your rivals top recruits? I wish we could poll the HS sophomores and juniors watching ESPN coverage of the WCBB NCAA tourney this week to evaluate the impact of ESPN coverage on their impressions of the conferences and teams and recruiters outside the BEast to see if they are concerned.