ESPN created an unnecessary controversy for itself this week when Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds’s name was removed from the Heisman House voting site, where fans are given the opportunity to submit one cumulative vote for the 2015 Heisman Trophy. Considering Reynolds was leading the vote at the time, it was a bit baffling.
After Navy Athletics drew attention to the removal, ESPN released a statement saying that since Reynolds was no longer included in the ESPN experts poll on Heisman candidates, his name was removed, though fans could still write-in a vote for him. The next day, ESPN wisely re-added Reynolds and a few other players no longer in the ESPN poll back onto the voting site.
On a micro-level, the dust-up is more of a PR mess (and PR win for Navy) than an actual problem. It’s unlikely that the fan vote will have much impact determining the actual Heisman Trophy winner and exists mostly as an advertising opportunity for Nissan more than anything.
On the macro-level, the situation speaks volumes about the way that the media dictates how we consume college sports and how the stories themselves get told. Sold to college football fans as a vote they could cast for anyone to be the next Heisman Trophy winner, the vote is skewed heavily in favor of candidates that ESPN “pre-approves,” in a manner of speaking. The experts at ESPN decided Keenan Reynolds probably wasn’t going to be in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy, so they took him out of the running on fans’ behalf.
It’s not news to anyone that ESPN dictates the way we consume sports, especially the sporting events they own the broadcasting rights to (such as the Heisman Trophy presentation). It’s just another reminder that there are certain teams and leagues that it’s in ESPN’s best interest to focus its energy on. There are certain teams and players they have a vested financial interest in. Ohio State and Ezekiel Elliott are in that group. Navy and Reynolds are not.
It’s reminiscent of Kirk Herbstreit’s infamous rant against Northern Illinois when the Huskies earned a BCS bid to the Orange Bowl over a multitude of power conference teams. Regardless of the validity of his argument, it was hard to separate the fact that Herbstreit worked for ESPN, which broadcast the BCS games and therefore had a financial stake in ensuring the games were as attractive as possible to national audiences and advertisers. It felt less like analysis and more like a corporate crony deriding unfair regulations.
No one would deny that the deck is stacked against schools like outside the Power Five conferences to compete for the National Title just as it’s stacked against players like Keenan Reynolds to win the Heisman Trophy. That’s the deal we’ve all struck and it’s a larger discussion for another time. However, there’s a fine line between acting like a media entity that covers the discrepancies and being a media company that engages in activities to make sure the discrepancies play into your own narratives.
At the time of this writing, Reynolds was tied for first-place overall with Alabama’s Derek Henry with 35 percent of the vote. The people are speaking and, in this instance, ESPN had to listen instead of trying to tell the people what to say.
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