How much is corporate media pulling the strings in college sports? It seems more prevalent than ever lately, with conference realignment throwing things out of whack. The USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins made headlines last summer when they jumped from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten. Texas and Oklahoma also sent shockwaves nationwide when they announced they were SEC-bound. Then, earlier this summer, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah left for the Big 12. If that weren’t enough, Oregon and Washington, two Pac-12 powers and cornerstones of the conference, announced that they, too, are Big Ten-bound.
There seems to be a lot of push-pull going on, and what’s apparent is that a number of these moves feel like they’re being put in place by the networks—namely, ESPN and Fox, the two industry leaders for college football. At least, that’s how they seem to want it to be, even with CBS and NBC’s continued strong presence. Fans and onlookers aren’t the only ones who are skeptical about it, either.
Washington State president Kirk Schulz, who also chairs the Pac-12 board of directors, spoke recently about the current state of the conference. These moves have decimated the Pac-12, and all that’s left right now are Wazzu, Oregon State, Stanford, and California. Schulz came off disappointed in the moves and also made a startling suggestion: that the Big Ten intervened and poached Oregon and Washington amid rumors of the Pac-12’s deal with Apple.
“I do think if I was Fox and ESPN, I’m not sure I want Apple in the marketplace, frankly. I don’t want somebody with pockets that are that deep as a rival if I can afford it. Was it a strategic move on their part to say, ‘If we kill the Apple deal, that gives us five or six years without them in college football?’” Schulz said.
Schulz, intentionally or otherwise, raised an interesting point about Apple. The company recently got into the live sports streaming business. And, to their credit, they’ve made an impact doing so. They’ve had MLB coverage, and they also air the MLS. The MLS’ addition of international mega-star Lionel Messi has bolstered its profile hugely. Are other networks attempting to cut off their supply? In such a cutthroat business, you might never know.
Ohio State outgoing AD Gene Smith already implied that Fox “paid the tab” on the Oregon-Washington moves. So Schulz’s implications aren’t that farfetched to make either.
Realignment is happening in college sports, and a lot of it feels unsavory. So then maybe it isn’t surprising at all that corporate media might have too much influence.