Posted on: June 15, 2008 1:32 am

Hypocrisy in Bristol

Few things in sports go hand-in-hand as well as ESPN and hypocrisy.

Sure, there are the high-profiled bashings of spring college football two days before ESPN decides to send Gameday to the University of Florida's spring game. And then there is ESPN's talk of high journalistic standards, the same standards that lead one of its primary writers to announce that Les Miles had accepted the head coaching position at the University of Michigan just an hour before he publicly announced that he had not taken the job.

But this story has been ignored, brushed to the side, because ESPN never wanted it to see the light of day.

On February 29, Save Oregon Wrestling (SOW) purchased 11 half-minute time slots on ESPNU and one on ESPN for broadcast during the 2008 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis. Just one day before the event was set to begin, ESPN turned back the advertisements, claiming that the network did not air “advertising that consists of, in whole or in part, political advocacy or issue-oriented advertising.” SOW was reimbursed in full.

ESPN, it should be noted, had a backlog of advertisers who wanted to buy airtime that was already sold to various groups, including SOW.

SOW was founded not shortly after the University of Oregon decided that it would drop wrestling after the 2007-2008 school year, a decision that was made July 13, 2007. It dropped wrestling to make way to add baseball, as well as to make competitive cheerleading a scholarship sport.

At the time, Oregon was the only full PAC-10 member without a baseball team and one of only four with a wrestling program.

Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny made the decision, claiming that the decision was his and not ordered by anyone else in the department.

“I felt it was my responsibility to examine all facets of the athletics department and determine how we could improve its operation and fiscal efficiency,” he wrote in a release to the media the morning of the decision. “The changing landscape of collegiate athletics over the past decades has influenced me to come to the conclusion that these changes will be in the best interest of the future of the university."

Kilkenny, it must be noted, was a former booster of the university who helped finance the buyout of his predecessor. He also has no college degree, the only Division I athletic director at any school who does not have this basic requirement.

He dropped the program and claimed that Title IX was at issue, a stance that he would later retract.

Additionally, financial problems certainly are not the problem. Baseball costs more than $1 million annually to field a program; wrestling is about $700,000. Furthermore, the university will have to pay more money for scholarships for competitive cheer.

All this is not to mention the money that Nike gives the department.

Finally, SOW raised more than $2 million, enough to fund the team for three years while it continued to raise its goal of $6 million, enough to build a stand-alone facility for wrestling. Yet Kilkenny wouldn't budge, deciding instead to cut wrestling and lie to the student-athletes about the motive behind cutting wrestling.

It's not financial. He is adding a sport that costs much more and adding scholarships to another sport.

And it is not Title IX. The department has come out and shown that it was in complete compliance with Title IX and adding a sport wouldn't have affected that.

Then what is it?

But the real problem is ESPN's hypocrisy.

ESPN had a chance to put this story on the front page, to let the world know about what the Oregon athletic department was doing, but it chose not to. Investigative journalism into a real issue in one operation of sports is not ESPN's way.

Sure, it will investigate heckling in Little League Baseball, but it won't investigate the disorganization of an athletic department.

Instead, it turns down the advertisements and hides behind a policy that it seems to only enforce when it wants to.

ESPN has no problem airing “issue-oriented advertisements” that it agrees with, such as a campaign to keep children away from steroids. Those commercials have been running left and right on ESPN for the past couple of weeks. Is that not, at least in part, issue-oriented?

No, it is issue-oriented, but it is one that ESPN agrees with. ESPN has invested itself in a campaign against steroids and therefore it has no hesitation airing advertisements that talk against steroids.

But a campaign against lying to student-athletes? But a campaign against the manipulation of the population of an entire state because a booster wants baseball and doesn't want his school to support wrestling?

Never. That's not ESPN's way.

So here we are now, three months later, and these wrestlers are suing the university, a case they might very well win because the university did not engage in good-faith negotiations with the program, and it is a non-story. It is a non-story because ESPN wants it as such. ESPN wants every story to be about steroids, not wrestling.

ESPN's policy is hypocritical and it probably knows it. The executives aren't stupid.

They know that steroids are an issue, and yet they chose to air advertisements on the subject. Just the same, they chose not to air advertisements aimed to save a wrestling program.

The policy looks good, but ESPN enforces it only against issues it does not want to turn into a story.
Posted on: June 13, 2008 3:10 pm

My First Entry

If you are going to spend time reading my work, then I believe that it is important that you know who I am. This is most likely the last time I write about myself, but I feel that it is an important introduction to my column.

I am a sports fan. I enjoy the competition, not just against other people but against yourself. Sports is, as Yogi Berra said, “90 percent half mental.” If you don't win over your mind, you cannot beat anyone else.

I am a sports fan. I relish in the satisfaction I get when my team wins, everytime my team wins. But it is a two-edged sword. When the University of Florida loses in football, I go crazy. I cannot watch a game with anything but socks near me because I will throw whatever I have at the television when something goes wrong.

I am a sports fan. I'll watch any sport once. Curling? Put it on. Badminton? Why not? Sure, I have preferences, but I'm not going to say no to a sport just because of its reputation. Every society has its games and each one is thrilling, I just don't have the time to learn each one. But I will give it a shot.

Finally, I am a sports fan. Nothing is more entertaining to me than the history of each sport. The records, the coaches, the players, the television contracts, everything deserves its story. Nothing is more beautiful than opening a book or going to baseball-reference.com and just soaking in the past. I know much more about baseball in 1960 than I do today, even though I wasn't born until 1988, and that is the way I want it to be.

Of course, as I said, I do have favorites. My life revolves around college football. With the exclusion of the sullen months from the middle of January until the middle of August, college football is all that is on my mind. Even on Sunday, when the NFL is playing, I'm working on my poll for bcsfanpoll.com or doing homework, the NFL existing as background noise. It should be noted that I haven't played organized football since first grade, although I did lead my team in tackles that year.

The rest of the year, I have four sports to carry me.

My second love is tennis. I was never very good at tennis, although I did make my middle school team in eighth grade, but that didn't stop me from becoming attached to the sport.

It really shouldn't be surprising that I adopted Wayne Arthurs as my hero. He was an underachieving lefty who struggled to overcome himself until he was already in his mid-30s, well past his tennis prime. When he finally gained the confidence, it was too late, but not too late to provide some of the most thrilling comebacks I have ever seen.

His heart defined sports. His energy, going out there every match and leaving his entire soul on the court drove me in my endeavors. When he retired last year, I cried, even though I knew for months that it was coming.

Next is golf. I love to watch golf. I know that that sounds strange, but I enjoy it unlike much else. I don't only watch the major tournaments; I watch weekend coverage of just about every PGA stop until college football rolls along. I love the stories, Robert Gamez winning for the first time in 15 years, Jose Maria Olazabal coming back from a knee injury to win the Masters Tournament, David Duval fighting on despite his free-fall from number one in the world to outside the top 500. No mainstream sport is more of a mental battle than golf, with the possible exception of tennis.

Look at Woody Austin in the 2007 PGA Championship. Or Bob May in the same event in 2000? Neither had any business going shot-for-shot with Tiger Woods, but on each respective Sunday each player believed that he was the best. Tiger struggled to prevail each time.

My fourth love is horse racing. The thrill of equines running is unbeatable. Even if I don't have money on a race, I love the site and the excitement.

Finally, I should discuss the one sport that I played in high school.

I was a wrestler, although I was never that good. By my senior year, I was competitive with the best kids in my county, the best wrestling county in the state. But competitive is about as far as I can go.

While wrestling appears to be an individual sport, it wasn't to me. I always knew what the team score was and what I needed to do to secure a win for my side. My senior year, we went 17-1, losing our one match 32-28. Six times that year I won a match that if I lost, my team would have lost. Most of those times, I was wrestling an inferior opponent. There is one exception.

To say I hated Commack would be an understatement. I was 0-3 lifetime against Commack, getting pinned all three times. I hadn't wrestled the school since my sophomore year (we were put in a different league for my Junior year), but I did wrestle it twice my freshman year on junior varsity.

My opponent had just beaten the fourth-ranked person at my weight in the county, although it is likely that that person had been overrated. The entire week, all I thought about was the match. Not once did the notion of defeat ever enter my mind. My team on the other hand started in a funk and we were down 6-3, having just lost the previous match in overtime.

Entering the third and final period, I trailed 4-2, a normal position for me entering the final period. I had taken him down for two points in the first period but he quickly reversed me, gaining the two right back. He chose neutral in the second period and took me down, giving him the lead. Knowing that he would most likely take me down if I escaped, I spent the rest of the period trying to reverse him to even the match. No luck.

But there I was, third period. My team needed me to win. I did not even look to my coach before I chose bottom. I talked to him after the match and he said he would have suggested neutral considering I failed to get out in either of the first two periods. I knew I would get out in the third.

Halfway through the two-minute period, I caught my opponent riding high and turned him to his back. I held him there for a five-count, meaning I would get two points for a reversal and three for near-fall. He fought off his back, but I turned him again, gaining three more points in the process. The final score was 10-4. My team came back and won 28-24. If I lost, we would have lost 27-25.

I told you this story because that is me. I don't take kindly to people who don't go out there and leave it all on the field. I like the little man, even if he's a tall, overpowering lefty like Wayne Arthurs. I like Zach Thomas and Alge Crumpler, Julio Franco and Pete Rose, Tim Duncan and Tyler Hansbrough, Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry. I like anyone who is willing to leave his or her body of work on the sporting surface, even if he or she comes up short.

I don't root for the underdog just because there is an underdog; I root for the underdog if the underdog gives me a reason to root for him.

Wayne Arthurs might have come out flat sometimes, but he still gave his entire self to the match. That's why I rooted for him. I would like to think I gave the same of myself.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com