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Media column: Is there an anti-UM bias at ESPN?; Local radio ratings; TV notes


Over the years, ESPN has eagerly seized on UM’s polarizing popularity, yet never resisted kicking the Hurricanes in the teeth, tossing grenades ranging from imploring the NCAA to shut down the football program, to just last month breathlessly and foolishly asserting that Hurricanes football is "bankrupt."

The UM/ESPN relationship has been dysfunctional at times, yet often advantageous for both.

UM has capitalized on ESPN’s reach to help build its brand; the network allocated two two-hour prime-time documentaries to Hurricanes football, a promotional vehicle extended no other university.

Conversely, ESPN has happily used UM’s national appeal to draw eyeballs. Three of ESPN’s 10 highest-rated college football games of all time featured Miami (against FSU in 1994, 2006 and 2009).

Some Hurricanes fans have alleged an anti-UM bias at ESPN, an issue raised again in the wake of the controversial conclusion of the UM-Duke game.

At least five prominent ESPN commentators --- Scott Van Pelt, Michael Wilbon, Mike Greenberg, David Pollack and Robert Smith --- called for the Atlantic Coast Conference to overturn UM’s win, even though they know there’s no mechanism to do that, even though they know setting that precedent would potentially create unholy chaos, with any subsequently incorrect call thus providing grounds to overturn results days later.

“It’s unthinkable a conference could just let that result stand,” Wilbon said.

All conveniently ignored unjustified pass interference penalties against UM on Duke’s final drive, with those calls leading directly to the Blue Devils’ go-ahead touchdown.

So now that the ACC informed the Hurricanes that there were "multiple incorrect calls" against Miami, including a pass interference on the final drive, will any of those five ESPN commentators say they were premature or misguided in calling for the win to be taken away from Miami?

Apparently not. None had weighed in on the issue on their Twitter accounts since the news broke last night.

Then there was ESPN’s Heather Dinich opining earlier this week that “Miami can make it right by forfeiting.”

Curiously, when the Seattle Seahawks beat the Detroit Lions Oct. 5 because of an illegally batted ball, I don’t recall any ESPN employee saying “Detroit can make it right by forfeiting.” Nor did Van Pelt, Wilbon, Greenberg, Pollack or Smith call for the NFL to overturn the result.

A few ESPN announcers have pounded UM for years. Mark May called for the death penalty when the Nevin Shapiro allegations came to light. “If there was ever a situation that merited the death penalty, this would be it,” May ranted. “It’s a culture of corruption [there]. The university wasn’t run the correct way. If it’s not going to happen with this program, then what would it take?”

Lou Holtz, no longer with ESPN, said at the time that “you have to come down hard on the school and the coach,” even though the coach (Al Golden) wasn’t to blame.

After UM lost to Clemson, Van Pelt --- generally one of the more thoughtful anchors on ESPN --- delivered a blow to the gut of Canes fan with a soliloquy on the midnight ESPN SportsCenter that he now anchors alone:

“You are going to hear a word a lot when it comes to Miami. That word is swagger,” Van Pelt said. “….In many ways, the modern definition of swagger in college football has its roots there…. Here’s the word Miami should focus on: reality. The easiest thing for the Canes and their fans to do is throw up the U as if it means anything now. It does not. It’s a hollow gesture that reminds them of a time they mattered….

“By the time the [Clemson] game was over, the only people left on the Miami side had to be... Their home venue is part of the problem. It’s at least half an hour from a relatively small campus… One of the myths about the glory days of the old Orange Bowl was they had a great advantage because of the home field. The truth is they rarely filled it to capacity beyond the Florida State game.. Their advantage was on the field.”

Van Pelt went on to say “this is not an awful program,… far from it and there’s no reason Miami can’t aspire to be great again.”

Far more caustic was ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum, whose personal animosity toward the Hurricanes program was transparent with this recent rant: “I think Miami is just an absolutely terrible job. This program is bankrupt. It has a delusional fan base thinking this is the ’80s and the ’90s and maybe even the early part of the new millennium. I don’t get it. I don’t know why any coach in their right mind would want this job. They’re living in the past with no future. I don’t think it’s a better job than UCF.”

So is there systemic anti-UM bias at ESPN?

There’s no evidence to support going quite that far; ESPN lead college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has been supportive of Miami over the years. Lead college basketball analyst Jay Bilas blasted the NCAA and defended Miami during the NCAA’s misguided, unseemly investigation of the Shapiro case.

But there appears to be anti-UM sentiment among a few of the network’s personalities, and UM officials --– though disinclined to comment about it publicly --- are certainly aware of it.

“I never detected any internal or systemic anti-Miami bias when I worked with [ESPN],” said Emmy-winning director Billy Corben, who crafted the two UM documentaries for ESPN.

“The analysts are entitled to their opinion and their opinion tends to the negative with Miami," Corben said. "The sports media does have a bias against Miami, but at the moment, it’s keeping us relevant. I don’t think the anti-UM bias is unique to ESPN. We’ve seen it across the national spectrum.  

“How irrelevant can your program be when you can’t stop talking about them?... Now you’re going to beat up on the Hurricanes when they’re at their lowest?”

### How did Mark Strassmann begin his UM-Duke report on The CBS Evening News? With hyperbole unbecoming of a network newscast.

“You are watching a robbery in progress,” he said over video of the final play.


For two years, while 790 The Ticket was pounding WQAM-560 in the ratings (except morning drive, which was very close), one question remained unanswered:

To what extent was The Ticket benefiting from having two signals (790 AM and 104.3 FM), compared to one for WQAM? Because Nielsen Media Research combined the 790 and 104.3 ratings, it was impossible to know for sure.

Now that 104.3 has changed formats (to alternative rock), the playing field between The Ticket and WQAM has leveled in the past two months. And WQAM has capitalized.

In the October ratings book, WQAM had a 1.3 share compared with a 0.8 for The Ticket and 0.4 for WINZ, which owns radio rights to the Dolphins and Marlins. It marked the first time that WQAM beat The Ticket at least two consecutive months since September through November 2012.

In the key male 25 to 54 demographic group, WQAM’s Joe Rose; Orlando Alzugaray; and Marc Hochman, Channing Crowder and Zach Krantz all beat The Ticket in their respective day parts.

The Ticket beat WQAM, and handily, from 6 to 10 p.m., which included an hour of The Ticket’s Ethan Skolnick and Israel Gutierrez, often three hours of Josh Friedman and Chris Wittyngham, plus Heat preseason games and postseason baseball.

“I’m skeptical of the numbers,” Ticket general manager Doug Abernathy said of the October ratings overall. “We had a lot of disruptions at one time [the format change, Dan Le Batard moving hours, etc.]. It will take a few months to get a true sense” of audience size.

WQAM management declined to comment. 

Abernathy said he is “really impressed” with The Herald's Skolnick and ESPN's Gutierrez and anticipates them becoming the permanent afternoon drive hosts, while stopping short of saying it’s definite. 

### Kudos to the NBA for finally doing what some football fans wish the NFL would: making out-of-market games available on a single-game and single-team basis.

The NBA’s League Pass package will be offered this season in three packages: $199.99 for every game (the only package available in past years), $119.99 for one team’s games or $6.99 per game.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league “had no choice but to adapt. It may cannibalize the overall package but ultimately the consumers dictate.”

### Everybody knows the NFL is King Sport, but from a ratings standpoint, the margin has never been more lopsided between regular-season NFL games and post-season baseball.

For instance: The Patriots-Colts game drew 14.6 million viewers, compared with 4.8 for Game 2 of the Mets-Cubs NLCS. Broncos-Packers had 23 million viewers, compared with 17.2 million for the World Series finale.

### CBS is sending Dolphins-Bills to only eight percent of the country on a CBS double-header week, and only part of Florida will get the game. See 506sports.com for a map. Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots work their third Dolphins game this season.

### Nice break for ESPN Radio and former South Florida personality Jorge Sedano: He will begin working shifts as both a host and analyst on ESPN2’s NBA Tonight; he will fill in when regular host Cassidy Hubbarth is off.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz