When the SEC Network debuts next month, one of the more interesting pieces of programming will be the show of radio host Paul Finebaum.
Finebaum, for those college football fans who have spent their lives and attention in Big Ten Country, is the host of a very popular talk show down South that focuses on, you guessed it, SEC football. It's frequently been a forum for excited fans to praise their team's success or lament their team's lack of success or admit to poisoning trees or generally complain about something. Regardless, it's very popular, and it's now part of the ESPN-backed SEC Network.
But the show's inclusion on the network's lineup has the potential — OK, much more than simply potential — to bring something odd to the network: negativity.
Why, you might wonder, would a host who has dramatic opinions and callers whose opinions can be even more dramatic be invited to participate on the conference's own network? Why would Alabama or Auburn or Florida or Georgia offer airtime of a network these schools control to those who wish to complain about or even trash talk the Tide or the Tigers or the Gators or the Bulldogs?
[MORE BIG TEN: Purely fantasy football: Creating a Big Ten-SEC Challenge]
Well, if you check out this interesting column from The Tennessean's David Climer, you'll find allowing a bit of negativity — be it on Finebaum's show and in news coverage — is part of the network's strategy, one that differs greatly from the Big Ten and its cable network.
From Climer's column:
"At SEC Media Days on Wednesday, the ESPN executive who is in charge of the SEC Network said negative news developments would be reported but suggested the reports would not necessarily be in-depth.
"'We're not going to do a lot of investigative journalism, but we are going to report when something happens and let fans know,' said Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president of college networks, who oversees the SEC Network.
"'I think that's critical if we're going to maintain editorial integrity and credibility with fans out there.'"
[MORE BIG TEN: NCAA proposes major-conference autonomy guidelines]
And then this:
"Nobody is saying it on the record, but televising a talk show like Finebaum's is a response to the Big Ten Network's high-road approach to, well, everything. When it comes to its member schools, the Big Ten Network is all kittens and rainbows.
"Said Connolly, the SEC Network chief: 'We want Paul to be Paul.'
"It sounds good — in theory. In reality, changes are in the works. Finebaum's show always has been caller-driven, but he admits that will be scaled back.
"'There are certain boundaries you have when it's a partnership between a network and a league,' Finebaum said. 'There will be caller segments, but I think if you're going to be a legitimate show on a platform like this, the word "content" is important.
"'It's going to be a little more buttoned-down, with more guests and fewer callers.'"
[MORE BIG TEN: Michigan regents hate fireworks, at least at the Big House]
It's just the latest comparison between the two conferences largely viewed as the biggest and most important in college football.
Typically, the SEC wins when discussing actual on-field matters such as championships won and the like. But now that debate is being taken off the field and on to television screens.
If Finebaum's show — even in its somewhat-edited format — succeeds, could the Big Ten look into bringing a talk-style show onto its network? The one thing Finebaum and the SEC have going for them is, obviously, a built-in audience. Finebaum's show is so popular down South that it's known nationally. Even before the SEC Network was a thing, Finebaum was brought in to add to ESPN's college football coverage. Big Ten Country doesn't seem to have anything like him. But, TV has always been a realm where what's popular is quickly copied. If Finebaum does well, perhaps what Climer calls the "kittens and rainbows" approach goes out the window for the Big Ten.