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ESPN vs. Mike Leach?

I was chatting with a friend and colleague yesterday about the whole Mike Leach vs. Texas Tech saga. Let me preface my summary/commentary on our discussion by mentioning I’m a huge Mike Leach fan. I think his whole act – the pirate stuff, the bizarre personality, Friday Night Lights cameo, hilarious press conferences – is terrific for college football. I’ve become transfixed with bowl season and college football in general because of the uniqueness of each school and football team, and Leach’s persona only helped make the game more fun for the average fan in an era where big donors, high rollers and wealthy alums are the only people catered to by coaches.

He’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime type of coach who you’ll reminisce about 5-10 years from now when Texas Tech is relegated to obscurity and say “THAT was fun” – much in the same way longtime college football fans now reminisce of Bear Bryant, Jimmy Johnson, and Lou Holtz.

So it’s with this I wonder whether ESPN has been fair in its coverage of the whole ordeal. I haven’t sat through any of their production meetings, chatted with Craig James or his family, or tried to contact Mike Leach myself, but from the limited viewing I’ve had on TV and online I’m a bit perturbed by James’ access. I think Rece Davis has done a good job trying to balance both sides during cut-ins and studio updates from bowl games. But, it seems for every counterargument Leach or his supporters float out there, James (or his supporters – including Texas Tech and the team’s physician and trainer) seemingly has a quick response on camera or in a written statement – including Saturday’s swiftly-released affidavits condemning Adam James’ confinement. I don’t think this would be the case with most other parents of D-1 athletes – parents with no immediate access (no cell phone number of the executive producers) to “The Worldwide Leader” and its millions of ready eyeballs – While ESPN tried to lessen the appearance of bias by taking Craig James off of calling the Alamo Bowl, he’s still had the ability to speak out on the matter – both publicly and certainly privately within the annals of ESPN.

My colleague mentioned that Davis’ “exclusive” interview with Leach ran roughly 38 minutes, but where is the rest of it? About 8 minutes and 30 seconds of its scintillating material is online, and the H&R Block Halftime Show ran bits and pieces of it. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention – but where is the rest of it? Is ESPN planning on running more in an Outside the Lines story? I would hope ESPN has tried to keep the time devoted to James and Leach somewhat equal, but I just haven’t watched enough to really say one way or the other.

So while ESPN has every right and ability to report on this story, I do think there is an appearance of minor bias through James’ influence and position. I do not think it has been an intentional bias – if anything, Leach has always seemed amiable, friendly, and open with the media – but an unfortunate, everyday type of bias that comes from working around public figures involved in a very public dispute.

Update: As I finished writing this, I found this months-old video of Leach cursing out Adam James for an apparent poor attitude in practice.