This afternoon ESPN conducted a conference call on the upcoming season with Lou Holtz and Mark May. It was moderated by Mike Humes of ESPN.
- Holtz is forced to choose between South Florida - coached by his son Skip - and Notre Dame when they face off this weekend. When asked about which team he'll be pulling for, he said he would be 100% behind the Bulls because he's been happily married for 50 years and isn't interested in getting divorced.
- Angelique Chenglis of the Detroit News asked about Michigan's chances this year. May said that Greg Mattison had to be an improvement over Greg Robinson from a defensive standpoint, while Holtz was a lot more bullish on the Wolverines' chances suggesting that they could win up to ten games with the staff Brady Hoke as assembled.
- Several questions about Miami were asked. Both men feel the worst for Al Golden, whom they believe was blindsided by the multi-year scandal at Miami centered around booster Nevin Shapiro providing improper benefits to dozens of players. Holtz believes Miami should lock him up to a long-term deal and establish him as the leader of the program. May believes that the school has to be held accountable due to the relationship Shapiro had with school officials including university President Donna Shalala
- Interesting suggestion by Holtz to create a deterrent to taking money by players: Impose a penalty that would involve having to pay three times the amount taken back, if caught. He didn't get into specifics.
- May's insistence that the school be held accountable was predicated on players coming from poor backgrounds being thrust into situations where it would be very difficult to turn away handouts, while schools are run by grown adults who need to be proactively guarding against this behavior. In regard to the latter, based on what has surfaced thus far Miami failed from the very top on down.
- May believes Miami deserves the death penalty, but won't get it on account of money (he didn't get specific, but I assume he means from a television, local, ACC and merchandising standpoint). He asked "anyone" to tell him what it takes to get the death penalty if Miami does not get it.
- My question, verbatim:
ESPN is enormously influential in how teams are seeded in rankings and how their particular team narrative is portrayed and established throughout the media, and you both along with Rece Davis do a great job of capturing that essence every night after all of the games have been played. Last season five SEC schools lost their bowl games, but you’d never know that based on how the conference is discussed and routinely portrayed on ESPN, and Coach Holtz already talked about Texas A&M’s challenges against Texas with the Longhorn Network, which is an ESPN venture.
Can you talk about the role that ESPN’s partnerships with the Southeastern Conference and the University of Texas in particular will impact your ongoing narrative and analysis throughout the upcoming season?
- Humes suggested that my question wasn't appropriate for this setting, which was supposed to be about college football in 2011 and not the media or ESPN (he's right, by the way - I in no way intended to ambush anything, but ESPN owns most of the bowls and commands so much of college football's content that it's completely intertwined in the sport and has direct influence over its outcome, vis a vis rankings and bowl assignments). Humes offered to put me in contact with ESPN executives to discuss further.
- Holtz asked that he be allowed to answer the question. His opinions aren't fed to him through a teleprompter. He speaks his mind. Suggested that re: ESPN partnerships, it's better to talk to the organ grinder and not the monkey.
- May said that in all of his years at ESPN, nobody has ever told him what to say. He has been given no agenda by anyone else. He also said that if ESPN didn't do the LHN deal, someone else would have done it and that someone else would have been an ESPN competitor.
For the record, I appreciated both responses as well as that Humes ultimately permitted the exchange. I also called Mark May "Mark May" which was really, really hard, because I had the theme to Family Matters in my head the entire time.