Oct 4, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN College Gameday after the game picks prior to the Mississippi Rebels game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The most notable part of ESPN’s Booger McFarland’s reaction to Florida State being snubbed by the College Football Playoff selection committee wasn’t that he went to bat for the Seminoles.

It’s that he seemingly was the only one.

“To me, this is a travesty to the sport,” McFarland said, shortly after Florida State — the 13-0 ACC champion — was left out of the four-team playoff in favor of Michigan, Washington, Texas, and Alabama on Sunday.

On a broadcast that appeared to otherwise be devoted to defending the one-loss Crimson Tide’s inclusion in the playoff over the Seminoles, McFarland’s response stood out. And it was difficult to watch ESPN’s reaction to the selection and not consider the implications for the network’s relationship with the ACC.

As college football enters the next phase of its expansion era, the connections between the conferences and their broadcast partners have become impossible to ignore. That has been apparent in the contrasting coverage of the Michigan sign-stealing scandal, with the Big Ten’s broadcast partner, Fox, taking a more sympathetic approach to the Wolverines than ESPN has.

Looming over all of this is that ‘The Worldwide Leader’ is set to enter into an exclusive broadcasting deal with the SEC in 2024. While the cozy relationship between ESPN and the SEC has been the subject of message board fodder for years — “SECSPN,” they say — at this point, the two entities are inseparable. And that’s particularly notable when considering that ESPN is also the exclusive rights holder of the College Football Playoff.

As such, ESPN has an obvious incentive to prioritize entertainment — and ratings — over everything else. McFarland even appeared to lend voice to that line of thinking as he discussed Florida State being snubbed.

“We look at this from a selfish standpoint,” the former NFL nose tackle said. “We want the best matchup, so we can say, ‘You know what this year’s semifinals wasn’t a blowout. It wasn’t a blowout like it was the last couple of years, that we got good matchups.’ I just think that’s devastating for the kids at Florida State, and I think we’re diminishing how you win.”

Fellow panelist Joey Galloway took exception with McFarland’s use of the royal “we.”

“Don’t use the term ‘we’ when you start to give your point there, because there is not a ‘we’ in this,” Galloway said. “We don’t care about the matchup. We don’t care about who’s playing who and where they’re playing them. We’re here to get the four best teams. That is what we’ve tried to accomplish.”

Galloway might not personally care whether Alabama or a Florida State team without its star quarterback makes for a more entertaining TV product, but it’s a safe bet his bosses do. And it’s also worth noting that the CFP has its own incentive to prioritize ratings, as it continues to negotiate the rights for next year’s expanded 12-team field (ESPN will maintain part of the package).

That’s not to say that ESPN influences — at least not directly — who makes the playoff and who doesn’t. Ultimately, the decision comes down to a committee comprised of athletic directors and former coaches and players, and not for nothing, this year’s chair was an ACC representative in North Carolina State AD Boo Corrigan.

But if you’re an ACC official, it had to be maddening to watch McFarland being the only voice championing your cause on your own broadcast partner. Especially as the network’s most famous college football voice, Kirk Herbstreit, reversed course on his previous “win and you’re in” stance for the Seminoles.

As an ACC fan, official or program, it would be understandable if you already felt like ESPN’s redheaded stepchild compared to the network’s treatment of the SEC. Sure, ESPN operates the ACC Network. But whereas the SEC Network has a signature program in The Paul Finebaum Show and high-profile analysts like Tim Tebow, the ACC Network operates more like a conference-branded version of ESPN 3; just look at the differences between the websites for the two networks (SEC, ACC).

Even looking at the panel for Sunday’s selection show, the SEC was represented by McFarland (LSU) and Greg McElroy (Alabama), as was the Big Ten with Galloway and Herbstreit (both Ohio State). While none of the analysts wear their allegiances on their sleeves, considering the circumstances, it wouldn’t have hurt to add a voice more associated with the ACC to the mix. After all, if Desmond Howard is allowed to advocate on behalf of Michigan every Saturday, why couldn’t former Florida State quarterback and ACC Network analyst EJ Manuel be afforded the same opportunity on Sunday?

Ultimately, the reality of the situation is that the College Football Playoff committee had the impossible task of selecting four teams from a pool of five qualified candidates and someone was going to get screwed. The injury to Seminoles star quarterback Jordan Travis gave the committee an out, even if it created the unprecedented situation of an undefeated Power Five champion being left out of the playoff.

That, however, should have been the story of the day. Instead, aside from McFarland’s comments, ESPN’s broadcast felt more like them favoring their new toy over their old one.

Considering the landscape of college athletics is shifting faster than ever before, it’s impossible to predict what the full fallout from all of this will be. But if you’re in the ACC, it would be understandable if you now feel even worse about what was already a pretty bad TV deal, which won’t expire until 2036.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.