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Unpopular Opinion: ESPN is a far better broadcaster and viewing experience than FOX

Ohio State fans have a strained relationship with the worldwide leader, but that doesn’t change the fact that ESPN broadcasts games better.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about what we would do if we were in charge of our favorite position group, team, conference, or sport. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all our “Unpopular Opinion” articles here.

Ohio State fans bemoan on regular basis that ESPN is out to get the Buckeyes, and they are filled with SEC media bias. On one hand, an argument can be made that, due to the partnership with the SEC, they do have more personalities who represent that area. The flip side of the coin is that Ohio State is a money-maker. Any network would be ecstatic to land even the worst Ohio State football game.

There is also a fact avoided by many — the primetime commentator is Kirk Herbstreit, and he is the voice of college football for the network. Fans will not have to worry about ESPN much longer, with this being the last year Ohio State will be featured on the network outside bowl games, playoff games, and the playoff ranking show until something changes.

That being said, I truly never understood the ESPN hate. It may be an unpopular opinion, but the best broadcast of college football has been Saturday nights on ESPN. ESPN is a broadcasting network first and foremost. This means they are there to show live sports. Guess what, it doesn’t matter which network Ohio State or any of your other favorite teams play on, bias will be everywhere in any broadcast.

Looking at the rival network, FOX has taken a foothold of favoritism from Ohio State fans due to being different. It’s not perfect though. Fans are stuck watching noon eastern games. The announcers’ obvious schtick has worn on me, and there is a reason I am excited for CBS and NBC to take their swings at Ohio State. With the ESPN relationship finished, in retrospect I want the world to know, the world wide leader was not bad at all – and remember this is unpopular opinion week.

The Gus Johnson Conundrum

To start this off, I wanted to get out in front of one of the more polarizing figures when it comes to network Allegiance: Gus Johnson. Johnson’s boisterous behind the mic persona has emboldened him to the Buckeye faithful with calls about barbecue being back there and “J.K. All. Day,” instantly coming to mind. There is something to be said about the energy he brings to a broadcast, but there is no substance.

Where Johnson’s strength lies, it is not made up for by his paint drying partner, as Johnson provides little to the broadcast outside of the energy. Where legends like Verne Lundquist, Chris Fowler, and Keith Jackson add to the story of the game, Johnson’s performance adds little personal anecdotes from the week. As a person who does not need someone yelling to understand that an exciting play is happening on the field. The sound effects are unnecessary.

I know this is not everyone’s opinion — that is very clear — but there is a point where the same old gimmick gets old. Johnson’s background is college basketball. There is constant flow of the game and little time for in depth conversations. When there is conversation, Johnson is able to ask pointed questions to the color analyst. There are also constant lulls in college basketball, so when a team goes on a run that is emphatically ended when a coach calls time out after a monstrous alley-oop, that is when the energy is important.

Football games are four hours long. There is a necessary level of excitement, but it does not need to come from the commentator in the box. Let the band play, the players make plays, and when there is a big hit, let the moment rest. Jim Nantz doesn’t yell, and he is the best to ever do it.

(To make this not entirely negative, I’d rather have the energy of Gus Johnson than the snooze fest that is the Brad Nessler-Gary Danielson CBS Broadcast. There’s a reason the Saturday afternoon CBS game nap is well-known thing. Gus Johnson wears you out, and Brad Nessler rocks you to sleep.)

Joel Klatt’s constant soap boxing

Is there anything worse in the world than a lecture you didn’t ask to attend? To me that is what it feels like for half the broadcast when Joel Klatt is on the call. Whether it is his takes on the targeting rule, playoff expansion, or the need for an NCAA governing body. These are great topics to discuss during the week, but during a college football game there is not that much time to fill.

There is one reason I have an issue with the constant soap boxing. He does three podcasts a week and appears on every Fox TV/Radio Show throughout the week. He has plenty of time to discuss those issues he has. When the game is happening the job of analyst is to provide analysis of the game in front of them. That means breaking down plays, talking about the stuff they learned in TV meetings, and not there beefs with the current NCAA establishment.

I understand the necessary embellishments one would take with an audience of over 10 million people, but sometimes I feel like it’s forgotten that a game is happening. When Ohio State is beating Iowa by 44 points, I do understand the need to keep the game entertaining, and a major way to do that is with talking points. There is just no reason for Klatt to use every broadcast as his podium to disparage the things he doesn’t like. That’s our job on Saturdays, and his job the other six days of the week.

ESPN keeps the Buckeyes in Primetime

One of the largest complaints from the fanbase over the last half decade — the Big Ten and FOX have taken their relationship to the next level with the constant noon games. More than half of Ohio State’s big games over that time period have happened at noon. As a person watching from home, this is not the worst for me, and when Ohio State wins it sets up a relaxing Saturday.

Going back to my days in college in 2018, Ohio State played six of their games at noon. Two were on ESPN, but if you took a gander at who the opponents were (Oregon State and Maryland), it makes sense that those were noon games. The other four were Nebraska, Michigan State, and Michigan. From a fan perspective, this is definitely a set of three names that deserved to be played at 3:30 p.m. at the earliest.

Even worse, the following year, four out of Ohio State’s final five games in 2019 were at noon, with the teams including Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. All three were ranked teams, and I know as the Buckeyes get into November there is less of a chance for night games, but still an egregious experience for fans going to the biggest football games of the year.

In comparison, four out of the six games in 2018 on ESPN’s family of networks started at 5:00 p.m. or later. Penn State deserves to be a night game — that is a hill I’m willing to die on, and with the new network partnerships there will be more Ohio State games outside of the noon window. In 2019, Ohio State played four games on ESPN networks, and three out of four were in primetime.

Big Noon Kick Off has been great for FOX, but it has been a detriment to the fan experience outside of people outside of college watching from home. There is limited pregaming, fans sleep walk through the first half, and the overall experience has become tired. The ratings are great, so nothing will change, but there is still plenty of reason to not like it – especially when another network wants the Buckeyes in prime time.

Ohio State’s biggest flops happened in Primetime on ESPN (or just on ESPN)

To the root core of the ESPN hatred, I think it starts with the major disappointments that have occurred on the worldwide leader. There is nothing better than a primetime win, but the flip side of that coin is a primetime defeat. For the Buckeyes, they have rarely lost over the last decade. Three of their four biggest recent losses have been on FOX, with Oregon and the two Michigan losses.

The reason those don’t matter is the collective opinion of ESPN being bad and FOX being good was already engrained in the culture. “eSECpn” has been a well-established acronym on Twitter since the inception of the first College Football Playoff, which is hilarious because Ohio State won that one. But I think a big reason the hatred of the network has become engrained is because of the heartbreaking and embarrassing feats the Buckeyes endured on ESPN or ABC.

Michigan 2011

This is the first game that comes to mind. Ohio State’s lone loss to Michigan over a close-to-20-year stretch. Fans did not hate ESPN then, but the constant reminder of one of the most heart breaking defeats in sometime, and the final game that capped off an incredibly disappointing season with many other primetime ESPN losses. This is just a working theory, but this to me was the point of conflict that sent them down the path.

Michigan State 2015

This loss sucked. It was on ABC and it was a rainy day. The memories of that Michigan State kicker running with his arm windmilling around is seared into our collective brains. Part of that searing is the ABC logo and ESPN game day branding on the screen. To go a step further, this was also the loss that solidified the Buckeyes missing out on the playoff, leading to many fans leaning into the ESPN bias — which then I understood a little more.

Purdue 2018

No need to spend time here, it was night and Ohio State had their most despicable loss of all-time — or at least in my lifetime.

Clemson 2019

The fumble, and Kirk Herbstreit’s constant admiration of Trevor Lawrence’s performance the year prior when he won the national title. Fowler might have been worse, but there was also a ton of love for Chase Young and Justin Fields. Due to the result, it’s hard to remember that, and just like the Michigan State memory, there is a key play that stuck with you. With the ESPN branding on the screen, the overturn of the fumble returned for touchdown and targeting are hard to not be mad at.

Alabama 2020

eSECpn at it’s finest. They just could not stop talking about one of the greatest offenses ever assembled. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard for me to acknowledge at the time as well, but 52-24 does not leave a lot of great things to say about the team with 24 points. That was not ESPN’s fault.

FOX pays a ton of money to share a stake in the Big Ten and to have the first rights to the biggest games of the season. Unfortunately for me and the people who share my unpopular opinion, Ohio State and the Big Ten are in bed with FOX for the foreseeable future.

With the additions of CBS and NBC, there will be more opportunities for Ohio State to find itself outside of that noon window, which is really my main gripe with Fox. I know some people love Gus and Joel, but I like my games to be broadcasted. If I wanted random yelling and people standing on soap boxes, I’d head to Out-R-Inn or another local establishment to take in a game.

The FOX broadcast was a nice change of pace, but over time true class from a broadcasting sense stays true. Herbstreit and Fowler are still the best, and FOX needed a gimmick and a lot of investment to remotely compete. ESPN runs laps around FOX in game day production and broadcast experience, but hey Gus Johnson says the occasional catchy line. I guess they’re equal.

I know this is unpopular, but at the end of the day, ESPN is a much better broadcaster than FOX. I will miss Herbstreit and Fowler in the years to come, but I am equally as excited for the new networks embarking on the journey with the Big Ten moving forward.

To me the less FOX the better, and maybe with some space, I can learn to appreciate what the FOX broadcast brings to the table again. And if the other networks suck, well there’s always the mute button.