I've spent alot of time over the years defending ESPN. I've never bought that they had some sort of anti-Tennessee agenda. Yeah, they pimped Woodson for Heisman in 97, but I could see why they were trying to create a competition. The "trailer park" comment by Chris Fowler was pretty much spot-on (I mean, have you SEEN some of our fans?). The academic investigation had to happen with the seriousness (if later proved to be largely dilusional) of the accusations that Linda Bensel-Meyers made. The commercial with the pet pig and the lady in curlers was hilarious.
They've even done great things for UT. They have an unhealthy obsession with Bruce and Pat. A lovefest, if you will. Over a four year period (04-08), Tennessee softball was on the ESPN family more than any other school.
I've even done some work for ESPN. I'm a fan and a defender.
But now, even I have to wonder what their deal is. Wendy Nix comes to Knoxville to do what should have amounted to a fluff piece on Lane Kiffin. Instead, we got, right in the middle of the piece, a two minute rant from Al Davis and a scathing letter from the Raiders telling us as fans, not mention recuits watching around the country, what a huge liar and generally awful person they consider our new head coach be. Was that necessary?
I was mad at that point, but then the four-letter network really lowered the boom.
The ESPN cameras were set up in Kiffin's office as part of the all-access that they were granted by the staff. They elected to keep their cameras running as Monte Kiffin and another assistant led a recruit into the throphy room behind Kiffin's office. Publicising a recruit's visit is an NCAA violation. ESPN was giddy to point this out at the close of the story, after pointing out the number of secondary violations that Kiffin has already committed, a number it turns out is on par with most other major schools.
But Lane Kiffin didn't committ this violation. ESPN did. They know the rules. They made the decision to keep the cameras running, rules be damned. No network had ever shown a recruit meeting with a head coach on an unofficial visit before. This was going to be a great first for them, NCAA rules be damned. They had been granted all-access, and they used zero discretion. They even refused to let UT view the piece before it aired.
To make matters worse, the footage was recorded the weekend of the Orange and White game in April. Yes, April. They sat on this for nearly two months, knowing what they had. Their excuse is that nobody ever asked them to turn their cameras off. Noone should have had to. What they did was make the conscious decision to create news.
That is the biggest problem I am starting to have with ESPN. They have gotten out of the business of just reporting the news, now they feel like they have to help create the news. And that's exactly what they did here. They created news where there was none because it gives them something to talk about in a slow news cycle. You can bet this violation (that they created) will be a topic of discussion on all of their shows Monday.
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't been Kiffin's biggest fan since he got here. I want him to prove something to me on the field before I start following him with blind faith. But no matter what, he's my coach and there's a bit of unconditional support that comes with that title. ESPN is wrong here, and they need to admit it. The media used to show some discretion, but that word is clearly no longer in the Worldwide Leader's vocabulary.