It is not exactly news that the Big East is not the most dominant football conference. Even fans of Big East schools know that. With U of L as the only program making an appearance in the AP Top 25, it is pretty much a given at this point. Yet, the folks over at ESPN would like to constantly reiterate that they believe the Big East is garbage. The latest is Kirk Herbstreit’s “Herbie Awards” (adorable), in which he lists his top 5 (or 12, in the case of defensive ends) players at every position and other non-position areas (AKA top 5 ankle breakers, throwback players, etc.) as well. Overall, Herbstreit ranks the top players in 22 different categories, the top coaches in two categories, and the top teams in one category. If you do the math, that is 117 players, 10 coaches, and 5 teams. Guess how many times a Big East name popped up? TWICE. To be more specific, Herbstreit had zero Big East players listed in his top 117, zero Big East teams in his top 5 Surprise Party Team rankings, but did include two Big East coaches in his top 5 coach ranking. That’s something, at least, right? In fact the number 1 name on that list is Louisville’s own Charlie Strong (USF’s Skip Holtz came in at number 3)! Pretty awesome, right? Not really. The ranking was the top 5 coaches who will get higher profile opportunities. So, despite no great players or teams, our coaches are good enough to bolt to “higher profile” opportunities. The line under the picture of Strong in the post reads, “Charlie Strong may find his way into a bigger spotlight.” Translation: we don’t want to shine the spotlight on a Big East team. For what it’s worth, Boise State DID pop up as the number 3 Surprise Party Team, and the line under head coach Chris Petersen’s name reads, “Chris Petersen will keep Boise State relevant.” I guess at least until they become members of the Big East.
Conspiracy theorists out there will tell you that ESPN despises the Big East. They will mention condescending tweets, articles, and on-air comments by ESPN personalities as evidence, and while several of it may be chalked up to paranoia, not all of it can be dismissed. There is some substance to the theory that ESPN is not the biggest fan of the Big East. It all arguably began when Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced that they would be leaving the Big East for the ACC about a year ago. The story behind the demise of the Big East, as reported in an article by CBSSports’ Gary Parrish, seems to indicate ESPN was the culprit. In that article, Parrish reiterates what Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo told the Boston Globe last October: “We always keep our television partners close to us. … TV–ESPN–is the one who told us what to do.” Hmmm…interesting. This all happened, of course, after the Big East rejected a 9 year, 1.4 billion TV contract offer from ESPN, a deal that Pittsburgh was allegedly holding up. This was without a doubt a dumb move for the Big East at the time, and there is a reason John Marinatto is no longer in charge. However, with rumors circulating that a potential deal with NBC Sports could exceed the deal ACC has with ESPN, it will help keep the Big East relevant as well as stick it to ESPN. This will make ESPN none-too pleased and the bad blood between the conference and the “worldwide leader” will only get worse.
As far as Herbstreit goes, although he appears to be going out of his way to disrespect the Big East, it would not shock me if he is just being an ESPN pawn. I do not dislike Herbstreit as an analyst. He definitely has his ups and downs, but I cannot say that I despise the guy, as he is still better than plenty of fools that consider themselves “analysts.” Plus, his hair always looks magnificent, his suits stylish, and those blue eyes?! Do not even get me started! Seriously, though, this list…at this point, it seems like ESPN is not even attempting to conceal its disdain for the Big East. Of the 117 players Herbstreit lists, an SEC player is named 33 times, PAC-12 30 times, Big 10 22 times, Big 12 14 times, ACC 13 times, and then Notre Dame appeared twice, while Boise State and Southern Miss also had players on the list. Not one Big East player. 117 players, and he could not think of one Big East player worthy of being on the list. Right. I find it very difficult to believe that players like Teddy Bridgewater, Mario Benavides, Rutgers RB Savon Huggins, USF LB DeDe Lattimore, Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham, Temple RB Montel Harris, UCONN RB Lyle McCombs, and other Big East players are just not good enough for Herbstreit. Not even Harris, a former 1st team All-Acc back and top rusher in Boston College history (although, in Herbstreit’s defense, he is coming off of an injury). Now, I am not saying that the list should be filled with Big East players. No one should kid themselves into believing this conference is better than it is (not very good), but as shocking as it may be to ESPN and Kirk Herbstreit, the league does have some talented players. Yet, they could not find one single spot for any of them. Interesting. For what it’s worth, West Virginia players showed up 3 times on Herbstreit’s rankings. Of course they did. Had they still been in the Big East, I am less than certain that would be the case.
Herbstreit goes a step further in a piece that was an obvious shot at the Big East when he lists who he believe will win each league. As all of you already know, Louisville is nearly a unanimous choice to win the conference and Teddy Bridgewater is a major contender for player of the year. Kirk Herbstreit must have not been informed. His Big East conference champion is Pittsburgh and player of the year is RB Ray Graham (who, again, was not good enough to be added to Herbstreit’s rankings). Pittsburgh. The same Pittsburgh who is less of a Big East team and more of an ACC-in waiting team. Shocking, just SHOCKING that someone at ESPN would make this prediction. Can you hear my eyes rolling?
Now, before Herbstreit goes into his ranking, he states, “A reminder: This is just my list. These are my choices, and not everyone will agree.” It is more likely that this is HIS list, once it had been proof read by ESPN. Either that, or Kirk just really hates the Big East. He makes other predictions, too, that my infuriate some fanbases. SEC country will certainly be ready to start riots seeing as his national championship prediction is Florida St. vs. USC. Yet, to not have one single player on this list seems to be a bit of an intentional slap in the face to the Big East, and I am assuming it has more to do with the powers that be in Bristol than it does with Kirk Herbstreit. The best compliment they give the conference is that two coaches (Strong and Holtz) are above the teams they coach and they should both move on soon to somewhere more relevant. Thanks, ESPN.