Bob Valvano is a weekend overnight host for ESPN Radio. While not quite a nationally recognized name like his more famous weekday counterparts, Valvano's work has recieved national plaudits. In the clip below, you can see why Valvano is a respected voice in an industry that too often gives the top real estate to the loudest and most controversial.
During the week, Valvano hosts a radio show on ESPN 680 in Louisville. After the Cardinals upset the Florida Gators in Louisville, Valvano unleashed on the lack of repsect given Louisville not before the game, but after the game, especially by his counterparts at ESPN.
Valvano was incensed with the way ESPN analysts and the media-at-large tried to make excuses for Florida, claiming they somehow weren't ready to play the game. Nobody could seemingly admit Louisville may have actually been better than Florida because it didn't fit the SEC-Big East narrative. Granted, Louisville is Valvano's home market, but never have I so totally agreed with a radio rant like this one. And honestly, calling it a rant is doing it a disservice. The clip is quite lengthy (40 minutes), but it's as well reasoned and articulated as an argument as you can give regarding the larger issues affecting the media and college football. Valvano touches on it all – from the groupthink with regards to the SEC, ESPN analysts like Kirk Herbstriet refusing to admit when they are wrong, to the convoluted system of preseason rankings, the presence of 35 bowl games, and the sport protecting the powerful. This is as good as sports talk radio gets. I'd encourage you listening to the entire thing, but if you don't have the time, some of Valvano's highlights are quoted below.
"I have a lot of respect for Kirk Herbstreit, but over the last couple months the stuff that's coming out of his mouth is so preposterous, because he played and I didn't I guess he's got to have more credibility, just the most ridiculous things I've ever heard."
"The three hardest words for analysts to string together are 'I was wrong.'"
"What were they looking at to determine they weren't trying? The first play of the game they almost knocked Teddy across the Louisiana border? What are they talking about? Just because it serves your own theory… just have the guts to stand up there and say I was wrong."
"You must disparage the Big East at every opportunity, you must pray at the altar of the SEC, and I understand how good the SEC is, but you then must also look for opportunities to show your fair minded. Teddy Bridgewater is the passport to that right now. The media, the herd has decided we can talk about that."
"The system is already so convoluted to make sure that the teams with the money and the power protect their turf that even when fair and square one of them gets beat they can't accept it."
"If they don't want the bowl games the way they are, then they need to step back from the table. Because Bob, the reason there are 35 bowl games is because of ESPN."
"I was in the meeting room when they said, because we make money on the BBVA Compass Bowl and the GoDaddy Bowl. They're not doing it because they love football, they're doing it for a business decision. If you're going to come up with this system, don't apologize away. How could you tell us this game is so significant and then explain away why a team didn't play well because they weren't ready to play it. It's not a legitimate excuse."
"They have a vested interest in the SEC."
"Behind closed doors the executives at ESPN clearly have a more vested business interest in the SEC… but I will tell you this, other than if it's a possible lawsuit, they never tell their on-air talent what opinion to take."
"Are these guys perfect, is that what they think? It's offensive to me as a guy who does it and as a fan because that's the whole point of playing the damn game you jackass is to actually have the result of the game come out on the field and not in the debate room. It's infuriating and the part that bothers me the most is that college football perpetuates that culture more than any sport in the country."
"Instead of celebrating it, we had to listen to a bunch of jackwads try and explain away why it happens and that ticks me off."
Hearing an ESPN Radio host so publicly call out Kirk Herbstreit, Mike Greenberg, and David Pollack isn't something you see every day. You can certainly question their analysis and their protection of the Florida Gators, and indirectly the SEC, in this case. The key point is not that ESPN's on-air analysts are saying what the corporate suits are directly instructing them to do so, though. Rather, the network's perceived protection of the conference and Florida is a product of a groupthink, herd mentality that plagues the media as a whole. (It just so happens that this groupthink is very beneficial to ESPN's corporate interests.)
Valvano's comments point to a huge issue that plagues sports analysis in 2013. Results are less meaningful than the narrative. When the latter should be constructed around the former, it always seems to be the other way around. Florida beats Louisville, fine, Florida is the much stronger team playing in a much stronger conference. Louisville beats Florida comprehensively, well, it must be because Florida wasn't ready or couldn't get up for the game.
But when you break down the narrative as expertly as Valvano did, you see that it routinely falls apart. Florida wasn't ready to play Louisville? Then why does ESPN hype the Sugar Bowl as one of the bowls that "actually matter." Nowhere is this problem more evident than college football, where championships are won with polls, media coverage, and reputation. As Valvano said so well, the whole point of playing the game is to actually have the result come out on the field and not the debate room.