It must be frustrating for Bob Stoops, this run of irrelevance his team and his conference have experienced since Oklahoma’s offense fizzled way back in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
When you consider the circumstances, the powers that now influence and control college football and OU’s run of luck over the past five years, it’s pretty easy to understand why Stoops — a guy who was once the king of his sport — has resorted to taking shots at the Southeastern Conference like some half-forgotten celebrity who no longer gets invited to A-list parties.
“Just a few years ago, [the Big 12] had all the quarterbacks,” Stoops said Wednesday. “And now, all of a sudden, we can play a little better defense and some other people can’t play defense. Funny how people can’t play defense when they have pro-style quarterbacks over there, which we’ve had. They’re all playing in the NFL right now.”
Quarterbacks or no quarterbacks, good defenses or mediocre, Stoops understands better than anyone how this game that is college football is played. It’s not an actual sport in the traditional sense. The champions of real sports are determined on the field. College football “champions” are determined by polls, which are heavily influenced by mass communication, which is dominated by ESPN.
In the past, Stoops has called this idea SEC “propaganda.” But a case can be made that it’s much worse than propaganda. Is ESPN doing the same thing to college football that pay-per-view did to boxing?
It’s a conspiracy theory, to be sure, but not one that deserves to be discounted out of hand.
Stoops was right and justified to rant, but his point about quarterbacks and defenses only halfway explains why Oklahoma is unbeaten at 4-0, just defeated Notre Dame on the road and still can’t crack the top 10 of the AP poll.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma is ranked behind three one-loss teams in the SEC: No. 6 Georgia (3-1), No. 9 Texas A&M (4-1) and No. 10 LSU (4-1). Undefeated Alabama is ranked No. 1 but looking more vulnerable each week. Now is where you point out that teams in the SEC play primarily on ESPN, and Oklahoma mostly plays on Fox.
Ask yourself this: Did the SEC create ESPN or did ESPN create the SEC?
It’s not fair to accuse ESPN of rigging college football. I don’t believe that to be true. What I do know to be true beyond a doubt is the ridiculous way in which college football determines its winners and moneymakers. It’s a beauty contest and image is everything. ESPN controls the image.
It’s an inherent problem in the sport that’s only going to get worse until college presidents vote to create a full-blown college football playoff of at least 16 teams. Until that time, ESPN will continue to play too large a role in determining who plays for national championships.
Stoops has been leading the “SEC myth” brigade for some time now, but stepped up his rhetoric by calling the SEC’s defenses overrated. Florida and Mississippi State feature the only defenses ranked in the top 25 nationally, and neither of those teams has faced the league’s elite quarterbacks: Aaron Murray at Georgia, Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and Zach Mettenberger at LSU.
“I still don’t know how [Texas] A&M was third in the country in total offense and scoring offense playing all those SEC defenses,” Stoops said. “I have no idea how that happened. Oh, they got a quarterback. That’s right.”
Watching Landry Jones under center for four years will leave anyone bitter. So, too, will a rankings system that Stoops correctly perceives to be weighted to favor the SEC. Last year, the Sooners started at No. 4 in the AP poll. By Week 4, the Sooners had dropped to No. 6 despite an undefeated record. Georgia leapfrogged Oklahoma, joining Alabama and LSU in the top 5.
And here’s another disturbing anecdote of ESPN perhaps having too much power. On ESPN’s College GameDay last Saturday, the network called for Southern California coach Lane Kiffin to be fired in the form of a poorly written and ill conceived prepared statement by radio buffoon Paul Finebaum. Kiffin was fired less than 24 hours later.
Never mind that Kiffin was trying to coach a team limited by extremely harsh scholarship reductions with inexperienced quarterbacks who were having a tough time absorbing USC’s complicated offensive system. Finebaum, with a flimsy monologue short on substance that read like it was scribbled on a cocktail napkin between sips of fruity drinks, called Kiffin the Miley Cyrus of college football. A few hours later, Kiffin’s boss, an actual Rhodes scholar no less, was pressured into firing his coach.
Southern Cal, by the way, plays most of its games on Fox.