Football puppeteering

ESPN has the ability to set up and control college football games.

In Division I college football, there’s an active player being paid billions of dollars to stand on the sidelines and watch: ESPN.

An Aug. 24 New York Times article shed light on the network’s highly profitable contracts with university football programs — deals that earn
ESPN broadcasting rights to college football games.

The network has a $7.3 billion contract to broadcast college football playoff games through 2026. The deal is second only to the rights to show NFL games through 2021, which cost ESPN $15.2 billion.

Though the Big Ten has a more modest contract, with ESPN paying $1 billion to broadcast through 2017, it’s easy to see why universities are prepared to cash in on television deals with the cable network.

Texas A&M athletics director Eric Hyman told the Times his university, as well as Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, benefited from moving to the Southeastern Conference from the Big 12, in part due to ESPN’s broader coverage of the SEC.

ESPN’s enormous influence has allowed it to plan matchups and set schedules, sometimes notifying schools of kickoff times less than a week before, the Times reported.

The NCAA has stringent rules about player conduct and bans on any kind of compensation for student-athletes, but it needs to instate meaningful regulations to prevent student-athletes from being exploited for big profits. ESPN does not have the interests of students in mind, and their health and academics risk being jeopardized when money is the top priority for both the network and college football programs.

College officials and the NCAA should work to reduce ESPN’s control over college football. If they don’t, the true objectives of higher education will continue to be distorted as high revenue sports take top priority.