As part of an interesting story on Paul Finebaum and his new ESPN/SEC Network show, Jon Solomon of Al.com asked the controversial radio host a simple question. “What’s going to happen if Finebaum — whose radio-show introduction boasts that he gets coaches fired — calls for an SEC coach to be canned on an SEC-branded network.”
Not surprisingly, the answer to that simple question is rather complex. Said Finebaum:
“It’s a good question. I would love to tell you that day will never happen, but it will probably happen the first day and I think we’ll all find out. That’s what I find so interesting about this. We are swimming in uncharted waters…
I think it would be awkward the first time we cross the bridge. If you get a situation like we see there’s an egregious call — and I don’t know why I’m thinking Les Miles but I am — you have to react to it.”
Finebaum reiterated that SEC commissioner Mike Slive has told him to be himself. That’s wise. Finebaum — whether you like him or detest him — is incredibly sharp and his interview skills are first-rate. But do the folks at ESPN want to let Paul be Paul?
“We’re going to have a dialogue with Paul about content,” said Justin Connolly, who is the top dog for ESPN’s new SEC Network. “I think the idea is we’re going to have to feel our way through in terms of the editorial voice of the show and the network, and at the same time we have to balance it with Paul being Paul. We’re not looking to water down or change Paul. We want Paul to be Paul. We want to be different.”
Different, yes. But back to Solomon’s initial question: What happens when Finebaum starts calling for coaches to be fired? What happens if/when Danny Sheridan appears on his show to accuse Auburn of cheating? What happens when Finebaum’s show becomes pro-Alabama — as fans of other schools often view it?
Other leagues have faced these issues, of course. The Big Ten Network is 100% a marketing arm for the league. If you wanted coverage of the Penn State scandal last year, you didn’t turn to the Big Ten Network.
The NFL Network found itself a target of late-Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. He took shots at then-NFL Network reporter Adam Schefter publicly and reportedly asked during a league meeting why a channel tied to the Raiders (and other teams) was trying to dig up news via sources within the Raiders organization (and others).
When a scandal breaks in the Southeastern Conference, it will be interesting to see how the SEC Network covers it. If it covers it.
And if Finebaum starts to get under the skin of certain coaches, ADs or schools within the conference, it will be just as interesting to see how they respond to his criticism.