The Buckeyes might be college football’s biggest brand. A handful of other blue-bloods can also be the biggest TV ratings draws in any given year, but in our experience, nobody in football is a more consistent bet to attract tons of eyeballs.
It stands to reason that, if the corporate interests behind the sport wanted to make as much money as they could, they’d be delighted to see Ohio State in the title hunt for as long as possible. Every Ohio State game is a major event for a big state. They’re the biggest program in an expansive region, they have alumni all over the country, and their generations of success have entrenched them in the spotlight.
Do not tell any of this to Ohio State fans. More than a tiny swath of Buckeye Nation has decided — especially after ESPN launched the SEC Network in 2014 — that the company broadcasting most of the biggest games has it out for their team.
Even worse, ESPN controls the Playoff, allegedly using its influence to keep the Buckeyes out whenever possible. Let’s go on a journey of Buckeye fan theories from the Playoff era.
THEORY 1: ESPN wants the SEC Network to succeed and therefore wants Ohio State to miss the semifinals/National Championship, which are not broadcast on the SEC Network
Ohio State fans have disdained the SEC for a while, but when the Playoff era and SEC Network era began at the same time, it created a potent conspiracy cocktail. That year, the Buckeyes made the Playoff in a controversial pick, so there was no room to accuse the network of locking them out. However, Buckeyes were still sickened by the network.
In the run-up to Ohio State’s 2014 semifinal, SEC Network host Paul Finebaum picked the Tide. (Finebaum will always do this against any non-SEC team.)
So message boards cheered when a bunch of Ohio State fans called into Finebaum’s show the day before, spreading the good word of the Buckeyes.
“On the ESecPN playoff preview show he said we have almost no chance to beat Bama,” one poster at 247Sports noted. “Obviously Buckeye Nation disagrees.”
Diligent Ohio State fans stayed on watch for bias from the four-letter network throughout that winter. Consider the response to something Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson said a few hours before the Tide and Buckeyes met in New Orleans:
‘For at least a week or 2 we don’t have to hear about the SEC.’ Paul Johnson’s closing comment to ESPN sideline commentator after the game. LMAO! Bet they wanted to censor that!
This was in the Orange Bowl thread but I wanted it to get its own viewing. Johnson was speaking for a lot of us. We can slam the door on the SEC West myth tonight against Alabama!
“I’m surprised they didn’t bleep it out,” someone responded.
Some other message board threads after OSU’s victory:
Hey Paul Finbaum....
That was the whole thing. Also:
I have a message for the SEC
D!@3Riders who thump their chest and accomplish absolutely nothing . I’m looking at you Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Both Mississippi Schools. Cant forget Paul Finebaum ( Or however you spell it), David Pollack, Mark May, Jessie Palmer, and anyone else. I have a message to you from a friend of Mine.
The poster enclosed a video of a sad trombone.
In the run-up to the game, another fan asked:
Anyone still on strike against ESPN?
It was hard to watch ESPN all year, especially with all the SEC spin. This week has been awesome, so much great stuff on tOSU! Can’t get enough and Monday night cannot get here soon enough!
One of the many people replying and agreeing said:
Absolutely. I will be ‘on strike’ against SEC Network for the foreseeable future. After the way they set up camp here in Columbus and kept digging (and even filing lawsuits against OSU) to find as much dirt as they could on us while allowing Alabama and Auburn to get away with minimal coverage despite clear evidence that they have been paying their recruits, I absolutely will not forgive that. I don’t care how much good press they give us. Until they come out and apologize for their previous actions (which they will never do), I will not watch their network for anything other than live broadcast games that I can’t get on another station.
The Playoff is not on the SEC Network, someone might point out. It’s pretty wild to think a media company would rig a game to boost a network that has little to do with that game, you might say. There’s no clear way that would make the SEC Network more profitable, especially not at the expense of having a big draw like Ohio State in the championship game that actually is being broadcast by that company, you might add. None of your arguments sway me.
The semifinal’s broadcast on ESPN made matters worse for some:
Hate when there's just that one reporter on ESPN that just hates ohio state and all they do is hate on them and talk crap about them...— Austin Morrison (@MorrisonAustin1) January 1, 2015
You would think this pre-kickoff tweet was sarcastic:
You would think.
So in 2019, the Playoff gave Ohio State an SEC officiating crew to handle its semifinal loss against Clemson. It makes you think:
DAMN CHEATEN SEC REFS...
Clemson never won that game OSU was CHEATED out of it . Dobbins TD that was stolen from him and Fuller TD that was stolen from him that’s 14 damn points the Refs stoled from us.
Furthermore, by diverting an ACC crew to ref the same year’s LSU-Oklahoma semi, the organizers put a plan in motion well before either game even kicked off. Consider this:
OFFICIALS ASSIGNMENT FOR CFP SEMI-FINAL GAMES: WE GET SEC OFFICIALS
And the ACC gets to call the LSU-Oklahoma game. Not sure how they determine who calls what games but one could quickly jump to the idea that we are screwed. Set up nicely to make sure that the finals is LSU and Clemson.
Now our guys have to not only beat Clemson but also the zebras
Power conference refs have been taking turns with these games for years, frequently making for conspiracy fodder. The Big Ten’s recent officiating assignments include two consecutive National Championships.
THEORY 2: ESPN wants the ACC Network to succeed and therefore wants Ohio State to miss the semifinals/national championship, which are not broadcast on the ACC Network
In 2019, ESPN unveiled an ACC version of its SEC channel, looping the Bojangles Belt into Disney’s anti-Buckeye plot. From the forums at Eleven Warriors, on the occasion of Ohio State’s loss to Clemson in the same year:
ESPN OWNS THE PLAYOFF
And the ACC and SEC
Look at the two officiating crews for the two games today. ACC called the LSU game and SEC called our game. Is this a coincidence? Or is this just a matter of ESPN vs Fox? LSU was clearly the better team, yet they got all the calls. Targeting on Wade? Roughing the kicker? All subjective calls that seemed to always go a certain way tonight. The officials on the field weren’t bad, but it just seemed every time there was a review, it went a certain “ACC Network on ESPN” way.
THEORY 3: ESPN and the Playoff committee colluded to knock down Ohio State’s seeding
Here we go, from 2019:
ESPN got their dream wish LSU vs Clemson like they wanted the whole time, committee set it up perfectly with that bullshit move putting LSU 1.
Unquestionably, the thing ESPN wanted was for college football’s biggest eyeball magnet to be replaced in the title game by a smaller school from South Carolina that some casual viewers might not be able to locate on a map. Ignore that Ohio State’s semifinal appearance was the most watched ever that wasn’t on New Year’s Day. Disney hates record TV ratings, and that’s why it wanted OSU gone as quickly as possible.
THEORY 4: ESPN’s anti-Ohio State position goes all the way to the root of a rivalry between Disney and Fox
At the 247Sports OSU message board, someone suggested it was a bit farfetched that the SEC and ESPN might rig 2019’s Ohio State-Clemson game. That person was gently corrected:
You’re incompetent if you think ESPN doesn’t have an agenda. Your act is getting old. The big ten is partnered with fox. Disney and fox hate each other. Disney will try to weaken Fox’s product and they don’t want us to have the national title label.
I’d take this a step further: Disney bought Marvel Studios in 2009 so it could make Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in 2017, timing it just to distract people from Logan, distributed by 20th Century Fox. Now that Marvel movies are the biggest in the world and Disney even took The Simpsons archive from Fox, Disney CEO Bob Iger has called in the fix to make sure Disney’s domination of Fox extends to football snubs of the best team in the conference Fox has a TV channel partnership with.
Am I dissuaded by the fact that the Playoff isn’t on the Big Ten Network? Absolutely not.
THEORY 5, a brief digression: Just who are the referees who made those calls against Ohio State? Are they Micky Mouse’s family members?
Elsewhere on the night of the Clemson loss, message board poster TheUtahBuckeye might be suggesting we name the on-field officials and replay crew working the game:
Let’s starting naming names. What are the refs names? Review official name?
(The officials’ names are already public.)
“Holy ***** Utah, I agree with you!!!!” wrote fellow poster DZforTHREE.
THEORY 6: Is ESPN being unfair to Ohio State by talking about genuinely heartwarming stories that have to do with Ohio State opponents?
During 2018’s shocking blowout loss at Purdue, some Ohio State fans were angry that the network chose to highlight the story of Tyler Trent, a Boilermakers fan who’d become close with the team and a source of inspiration for the Purdue community. Trent had terminal cancer, and his message of not giving up touched a lot of people around college football.
Making it even worse, during a similar shocking blowout loss the year before at Iowa, ESPN had highlighted the children’s hospital that towers over Kinnick Stadium.
What, Ohio State fans wondered, was the network’s deal?
I’m not heartless, and I’m glad he got his moment. But, ABC and Tom Rinaldi interrupted the live-action twice for extended periods of time. It’s almost like ABC was going to force this tear-jerking story down our throats. We all have tragic stories and sorrow in our lives; we don’t what more during our escape into a football game.
This game had shades of Iowa all over it. All the way down to the sick kids...
away game, black and gold colors, pathetic defense, anemic offense, and emotional element of the ailing kid/s close to the program.
I had to check my channel guide to make sure my TV hadn’t switched to the Oprah Channel.
Others simply found the Trent story irrelevant, because football doesn’t cure cancer.
THEORY 7: Specific ESPN commentators have it out for Ohio State, including a former Ohio State quarterback who’s been corrupted by ESPN and his Michigan friend
During and after the 2018 Purdue loss, posters at The O-Zone had the following complaints, all quoted verbatim, about play-by-play man Chris Fowler:
- “Turning the sound off for the entire 2nd half helped ease the pain of hearing Fowler’s Boilergasms.”
- “Eff Fowler”
- “Fowler so happy and with the O face”
- “Fowler LOL man he hates OSU”
- “Go suck one Fowler”
- “F... Fowler”
- “No more games with Fowler please”
- “I haven’t heard Fowler this giddy since.......” (it’s never cleared up)
- “I want neutral announcers, not one that jizzes his pants on every good play from the other team”
- “It’s funny listening to Fowler when out of the room. The glee is palpable.”
This has been a somewhat mainstream Ohio State fan complaint over the last few years.
Wanted to take some time to evaluate and deliberate..... but after further review..... Chris Fowler hates Ohio State— mike snider (@mike_snides) September 30, 2018
Chris Fowler obviously hates Ohio State. He'll deny and claim impartiality but the glee at any Buckeye struggle is obvious.— Buckeye Nation Ambassador (@216minor) October 21, 2018
Could Chris Fowler be anymore anti-Ohio State?— Coach Bosch (@HunterBosch) October 21, 2018
Another thought, Chris Fowler coukd never call a Buckeye game ever again and I would be happy. It’s clear he is anti-Ohio State.— Nate Hines (@OhioStateNate) October 21, 2018
I’m ok with the loss as long as Chris Fowler never calls a Buckeyes game again.— fast and furious: Tokyo Crisp (@TheCrisp21) October 21, 2018
Chris Fowler gets a fat chubby every time ohio state is failing.— Chris Roselli (@CR2FL) December 29, 2019
Chris Fowler is a disgrace to television media. Blatantly pulling for Clemson to beat Ohio State. It is actually embarrassing to listen to him. Unprofessional.— scott hoover (@scottho83277553) December 29, 2019
@ESPNCFB can I recommend chris Fowler no longer doing ohio state games.— @vdpjwv (@vdpjwv) December 29, 2019
There are more from nearly every Fowler call of an Ohio State game over the years, though they seem to have really ratcheted up since 2018. (It’s also possible old tweets don’t exist any more or are hard to find within the constraints of a bad search engine.)
But Fowler’s supposed hatred isn’t the most galling part. The worst is that former Ohio State QB Kirk Herbstreit, Fowler’s booth partner, is now said to lobby against the Buckeyes himself. (Click here for a picture of Herbstreit cheering a good Ohio State play during a game he wasn’t calling.)
When Ohio State finished just out of the 2018 Playoff and Herbstreit didn’t fight someone on live TV, someone at the 247 board figured it out: Herbstreit had sold out his alma mater in service of his corporate masters.
whats with this guy? like full on campaigning on ESPN to put Georgia in at #4... almost sounded ballistic if the committee wouldnt put them in..
shilling for the SEC as usual.. gotta get paid right? lol
Many more agreed Herbstreit was just looking out for his wallet. Here is another complaint, which I’ve cut short because it gets even more NSFW:
Herbie is a good analyst and commentator.
At some point while working for ESPenis, he started to realize their bias and financial connections to the SEC. At that point he had one of 2 choices. Continue to get paid as an SEC promoting puppet or go to another network that was fair on all levels.
He looked at his check and sold out. When you can buy a $700k house in Dublin just to burn it down and build a new one, you must be making some jack.
Another refined take:
Herbie should take those ESPN kneepads off, wipe the [gross expletive removed] and just keep cashing those SEC checks, I mean ESPenis checks.
Another poster called Herbstreit a “fake Buckeye and full throttle SEC money grabbing shill.” And another said Herbstreit had flipped to a different dark side:
i can’t stand the douche bag anymore. what a sellout. also he seriously thought scUM was going to beat us this year. he has so much bias and hate against his former team
Herbstreit caping for Michigan would be a high crime and misdemeanor. What would be even worse: if an ESPN analyst who used to play at Michigan had somehow convinced the ex-Buckeye to turn heel.
First with Herbie it was Desmond Howard, a total Weenie promoter, which Herbie never confronts and now I swear he is beming David Polacks (sp?) bitch because all Polack does is promote the SEC knowing that Herbie will agree with him. I used to defend Herbie but have now seen enough to know where he stands on tOSU. Lost all respect for him. He will more than likely begin promoting Tua for Heisman even though Haskins has done much more than Tua. I think Jalen Hurtz proved last night that any qb could be a winner on the best team money can buy!
Herbstreit, who now lives in Nashville, has become the worst of all worlds: an ESPN employee who lives in SEC country and may well have been an UNDERCOVER WOLVERINE the entire time.
THEORY 8: ESPN’s production truck is shadow-banning Ohio State fans into silence
In the 2019 loss, Ohio State fans (and administrators) took issue with two calls in particular: a replay-instated targeting that got Ohio State DB Shaun Wade thrown out in the first half, and a replay decision to overturn a fumble recovery TD by the Buckeyes. (My opinion: the targeting call was correct by the book, but the fumble overturn was incorrect.)
At The O-Zone, an Ohio State fan who attended asked their fellow posters: “Did the loud OSU crowd booing of the call reversals / ejection come across in the broadcast? It was loud in the stadium.”
The only rational answer? We didn’t hear it well, because the same network trying to install Clemson in the National Championship didn’t want us to hear it:
You heard it on TV but it was not terribly loud but ESPN probably turn the mics down
The booing was probably loud, because Ohio State fans packed the stadium in Glendale. That, in and of itself, may be why the committee made OSU the second seed:
This real reason we dropped to #2. Wanted butts in the seats.
LSU fans famously do not travel at all, and the Playoff would’ve wanted the Peach Bowl semifinal to be as empty as possible, so this checks out.
THEORY 9: ESPN’s corporate mission is to defend the honor of the Confederacy
Let’s follow this thread, from the night of the 2019 loss to Clemson:
What if ABC/ESPN/Disney bought the B10 Network? Would that change the landscape?
No, cause the B1G10 is in the north. They only want southern schools to win everything.
(Giant media corporations based in Burbank, California and owning sports networks based in Bristol, Connecticut are known to favor Southern college towns.)
Yep. Lived in Birmingham 10 years They are still fighting the Civil ear down there.
Yep, and that replay was reviewed in Birmingham
This might be getting a bit hard to follow, but don’t worry. We’re almost home. The reason ESPN will never stop subjugating the Buckeyes to biased officiating is that Bristol is still angry about 1860s military engagements.
This is 100% true. They particularly hate Ohio because of Grant and Sherman. Seriously. It’s crazy.
Indeed, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were from Ohio.
But before Sherman fought against the Confederacy, he served as the first superintendent of Louisiana State University — the school that got the #1 seed over Ohio State in 2019.
So it goes even deeper than anyone realized. Disney, which has time-traveling technology (source: Avengers: Endgame, 2019) installed an SEC man as a Union general in the 1860s. That’s how the Mouse made Ohio’s greatest historical triumph into nothing but an SEC West win over the SEC East.