After Ohio State's win over Minnesota, a bit of a 'scandal' unfurled on Twitter about how the Buckeye's win was being presented. Here's what happened.
Early Saturday evening, give or take a few hours after the Buckeyes' tough but perhaps unfulfilling 31-24 win over Minnesota, a headline on The World Wide Leader's mobile website was said to have read "Ohio State Escapes Minnesota." Perhaps fair, given the turnover and mistake-ridden end to the snowy, hard-fought contest, but by no means the whole story or indicative of how the Buckeyes continually shot themselves in the foot throughout Saturday's contest. This was, after all, much closer to being a 21 plus point affair than the final score indicated.
Toward the end of the 3:30 p.m. slate of Saturday college football games, right after TCU had very literally escaped an upset at the hands of recent Power 5 have-not Kansas on the road in Lawrence, a headline on the same mobile site reportedly read "TCU Passes Test In Lawrence."
Anyone who watched the Horned Frogs' win undoubtedly knew they had to get their act together after a rough three quarters or so. TCU didn't look like the fourth best team in the country until well into the second half, and could have easily lost to Kansas. In the end, they won by four, against a far inferior opponent.
So where did this social media word-of-mouth game of telephone get started?
On a tweet from the "parody" type account Not SportsCenter Columbus, apparently:
Just out of curiosity, Did ESPN hire their headline writers from WWE rejects? You can't make this up, time after time pic.twitter.com/KR1PCGdyfb— NOTSCColumbus (@NOTSCColumbus) November 16, 2014
There's nothing in the photo embed to suggest that the photo is doctored in any way and the time stamps certainly seem to reflect the feasibility of the headlines and social media scuttlebutt attached to them.
After the source photo was repackaged and redistributed, Ohio State redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee even took umbrage with the side-by-side headlines:
I'm sorry but this is trash. RT @GerdOzone: Ah, this again. ESPN having fun with headlines. pic.twitter.com/H9XGdUPYMt— Darron Lee (@DLeeMG8) November 16, 2014
So with all the anecdotal evidence, were these headlines in fact used? They were.
Time stamped archives of ESPN's home page from similar times as the mobile screen grab unearthed by @NotSCColumbus corroborate as much. We've attached desktop screen grabs to verify these claims:
So does this indelibly confirm proof of, to paraphrase Friend of the Holy Land Ryan Nanni, a highly organized cabal of media haters who only want to tear down the Buckeyes because they are jealous and have never achieved success in any field and never will? Hardly.
We're not ones to buy in to any kind of media bias, message board-rooted groupthink. To prejudge or instinctively assume some kind of editorial junta or top-down edict against the Buckeyes is usually overthinking it to say the least.
Giant bureaucracies like ESPN have too many layers to effectively institutionalize any one specific line of sports-related thinking, and while they certainly have business interests and conventional wisdoms that they're beholden to, that Florida State, Ohio State, Baylor/TCU, and numerous other fan bases alike all carry "ESPN hates us" torches pretty much says it all.
Given our understanding of how ESPN and similar digital newsrooms are staffed, the odds that even the same person was responsible for the headline isn't even that high. That the Ohio State headline was changed but a few hours later even suggests the possibility that the person ultimately responsible for oversight on that portal changed it after taking umbrage with how the original was phrased.
Should you be up in arms that someone who was possibly an hourly waged intern-level employee who may or may not have even watched your favorite's team game "disrespected" the Buckeyes? Honestly seems like a waste of energy from our vantage point.
With a large portion of the country skeptical of an Ohio State team they haven't seen much of, ESPN isn't the first nor the last media organization who will write something you will disagree with in the weeks ahead.
Does it have any real bearing on the Buckeyes' standings with the only 12 people whose opinions really matter? Being more than generous, perhaps there's some kind of multiplier effect that could occur on the off chance that one of those individuals happen to have pulled up ESPN.com on their phone during that time period, but even then, we're talking about a very, very subtle level of thought influence.
In the interest of fairness, we reached out to ESPN to comment on this story but a formal response wasn't available at the time of publish.
It's okay to be frustrated that Ohio State didn't win by more in tough weather conditions. It's even all right to think a headline is contextually unfair to the actual flow of the game, especially compared with another largely out-of-context headline about another game. Is it really anything worth crying over spilled milk over? Not particularly.