This afternoon, I watched the FCS championship game between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State University. I was rooting for a Bearkat win, almost entirely because my niece attends the school. But their 17-6 loss was not the only disappointment I encountered.
During the game, the announcers got several facts wrong about the area, in particular confusing Frisco, where the game was played, with Dallas, which is clearly where they wanted to be. Their lackadaisical tone spoke volumes. They misspoke, making a travesty of English, and not once did I hear them correct themselves. Maybe that seems petty, but had this game involved some 8-5 Division I team, they would likely have shown more respect.
At one point, NFL great Jerry Rice was interviewed, mainly about the new award which bears his name. They apparently could not interview him during a lull in the game or during a lengthy timeout, but during a couple of exciting plays, one of which was an interception. His voice was barely audible, but I was struck by how he was put in the position of defending the athletic ability of players in what I suppose many feel are second rate schools. When he was talking about the winner of the award, he was difficult to understand. So does ESPN only send the good audio equipment to games where 7-7 Division I teams play?
At halftime, there was coverage of Penn State's hiring of Bill O'Brien to replace Joe Paterno. That's to be expected. But it only brought back my ire concerning the whole mess, especially having to listen to Joey Galloway opine that O'Brien brings "energy" and "passion" to the job. Of course that is said about most people getting hired as coaches, but it was particularly irksome to hear this tripe after watching O'Brien at the press conference. The man was stiff, like kid in his freshman speech class. Even his hand gestures were clearly rehearsed. (Don't get me started on the implication is that Paterno didn't have any passion or energy.)
But I digress. A lot of people talk about sports at smaller schools with the same circular reasoning. Commentators regularly belittle schools the size of Sam Houston or North Dakota during arguments over whether the "big boys" should have a playoff system, saying that if they have never heard of the school, then it should not have a chance to compete with well known programs. But this prejudice, so clear in ESPN's handling of this (shall I remind you) championship game, goes far beyond sports. Though there are more Americans actually going and graduating from these schools, mention of less known colleges is usually dismissive at best, and often mean-spirited.
When Leon Lett committed his supposedly bonehead play on Thanksgiving, 1993, Dale Hansen remarked, like so many in the sports intelligentsia, that his "mistake" showed why he went to Emporia State. Supposedly he wasn’t smart enough to go to a big school. It was probably not the first time I'd heard someone on television put down smaller colleges, but it would be one that made me think about how others think of colleges. When my own alma mater, East Texas State University (now Texas A&M Commerce) reached the NAIA semifinals in 1980, though they are about an hour from Dallas, few knew about it as far as the media were concerned. Nothing has changed. Dallas has many not-Division I schools nearby, and almost even scores of their games are rarely reported or given.
I didn't watch the news tonight but only one of the local stations (NBC-5) has a story or anything about today's game, which was played less than an hour's drive away from most of the area's broadcast studios. And NBC's story was posted before the game. There was no report about the game itself. There are stories about SMU's win over Pittsburgh in the barely interesting BBVA Compass Bowl, but almost nothing about a championship game right here.
By the way, during the broadcast of the game, there was a PSA featuring Lebron James encouraging kids to get an education. There was also a commercial from the NCAA touting their academics and how lots of student athletes were not "dumb jocks." Well, if you take football and basketball out of the mix, you'll probably find more athletes graduating and getting actual jobs and higher GPAs. But after watching male athletes at my own school working very hard to barely skate by, I have begun to doubt even this. Bottom line: James is a hypocrite and the less attention a sport (or gender) gets on television, the more likely you are to see their athletes getting degrees and looking for legitimate work.
I long ago grew tired of the "no one has heard of--" mentality. It implies that the way to judge the quality of a college would be how many times it is on television playing football and how many games that football team has won. But that only goes for Division I schools. The rest it seems, are out. They are, for so many students, second and third choices, despite the fact that smaller schools do not provide an inferior education or that many of those who have someone paying big dollars for them to go to "big" school are sometimes not adequately prepared for the real world.
Okay, this has been a bit more rant than real argument. So I must get back to what has me set off . ESPN reminded me of what has been true, but overlooked, a long time: Americans have been listening to what the television tells them is important a long time and most often believes it. Worse, we have, as a culture, determined that anything not lauded by some jerk on the national stage must not be important. This mindset is particularly heinous regarding those who belittle and deride, in words and in attitude, the smaller universities and community colleges that are the backbone of real education in the United States. And when we don’t stand up to jerks expressing how they (barely) think, it says a lot about what we think of our ourselves as a nation.