Stewart Mandel doesn’t exactly have a high opinion of Craig James.
Mandel: I wouldn’t trust Craig James to report on sixth-grade volleyball. It’s been established, via documented emails, that he not only encouraged a sitting Big 12 football coach’s dismissal but hired a PR firm to intentionally manipulate coverage. And yet he’s still walking into Big 12 coaches’ offices every week to break down tape. Now he’s running partisan political advocacy ads, which you would think would be a no-no for a television analyst (I seem to recall Lou Holtz getting in trouble simply for endorsing a candidate). How he’s still on television (and in prominent time slots at that) is one of the great mysteries of modern civilization.
That’s harsh. Hell, the worst thing Mandel ever said about college football bloggers who got on his nerves was that they needed to shower and shave more regularly.
This wasn’t something overheard between Mandel and a couple of his Montana buddies over beers during happy hour at a sports bar. It’s part of a rather extraordinary exchange between him, Andy Staples and a couple of other SI.com writers. And it’s Staples who hits on the real puzzle for me when he says,
… Craig James, because he adds very little to the broadcast, and ESPN has sacrificed much of its journalistic integrity to protect him in the wake of his campaign to get Mike Leach fired at Texas Tech. If ESPN replaced James with any random ex-jock, viewers wouldn’t complain a bit. Yet for some reason the network has bent over backward to protect James. It makes no sense.
No, it doesn’t. But it’s there, along with the Longhorn Network and ESPN’s absurd reaction to Bruce Feldman’s role as editor of Mike Leach’s book. And that’s just the latest stuff.
What’s hard to figure is not so much that the WWL can be tone-deaf on occasion – Lou Holtz’ continued presence is a shining example of that – but why the network seems to care less and less about it as time goes on. No doubt much of that can likely be attributed to the attitude that inevitably comes with the self-awareness attached to being the only 800-pound gorilla in the room (notice how much of their discussion is about ESPN?). But I get a certain sense that it’s generating more resentment than ever, both from the journalism side and the college side.
I don’t know if the Longhorn Network will come to be seen as some sort of tipping point in ESPN’s relations with the rest of the college sports world, but as big and powerful as the network has come to be, you’d have to think that even it wouldn’t be immune to problems caused by a high enough degree of antagonism with those it has to work with to offer product.
On the other hand, it does throw a lot of money around. Maybe that’s enough to keep getting by.