Last Sunday ESPN aired an in-depth piece from its award-winning investigative unit Outside The Lines targeting what has become public enemy number one for NCAA rules enforcement officials: 7-on-7 summer football.
(ESPN noted - then deleted - Kiper’s refusal to give up 7-on-7 biz venture)
In the piece, ESPN OTL reporter Joe Schad revealed that the NCAA had recently hired seven full-time NCAA rules enforcement officials to investigate anything and everything related to 7-on-7. Less than a week later the crown jewel of ESPN editorial, Outside The Lines, proved prescient as the Southeastern Conference officially banned conference coaches from any involvement with 7-on-7 - along with a permanent SEC embargo on all on-campus 7-on-7-related activities by conference institutions.
The latter development, which involves a $2.25 billion broadcast partner of ESPN, makes the televison network’s decision to allow ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr.’s now-documented “heavy involvement” in the same now-SEC-banned 7-on-7 activities newsworthy and - from the NCAA’s perspective - noteworthy.
At least if we’re to believe the recent, multiple updates to the Outside The Lines 7-on-7 story published on ESPN.com in the last 24 hours.
On May 29, after the Outside The Lines 7-on-7 piece reported by Schad originally aired on ESPN, an accompanying ESPN.com article recounting the on-air OTL piece was posted. At the bottom of the story read:
“Editor’s note: ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has had involvement with a national 7-on-7 tournament, but he is no longer involved.”
On June 3 at 7:30pm ET, the message at the bottom of the same Outside The Lines 7-on-7 investigative piece on ESPN.com had been changed to:
“Editor’s note: This story, initially published May 29, noted that Mel Kiper Jr. was no longer involved with a national 7-on-7 tournament. On June 3, ESPN released the following statement: ‘Mel had told us that he was no longer going to be involved, but later changed his mind and is maintaining his relationship with the tournament.’“
On June 4 at 10:30am ET, the message at the bottom of the same Outside The Lines 7-on-7 investigative piece on ESPN.com had been changed again:
“Editor’s note: This story, initially published May 29, noted that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. was no longer involved with a national 7-on-7 tournament.”
So why did ESPN delete the note about Kiper “changing his mind” and deciding to “maintain” his extensive, NCAA-targeted 7-on-7 summer football activities?
On June 3, Chris Low of ESPN.com reported from the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida:
“The SEC will also have oversight on those players placed on medical scholarship and has banned coaches from being involved in 7-on-7 events for high school prospects and will no longer allow 7-on-7 events to be held on SEC campuses.”
On June 3, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said of the new conference ban on all things 7-on-7:
“There’s a sense in football by the coaches and some of us that there’s a bit of creep and that we think it’s in our best interest to do what we can to stop it.”
18 months ago, in announcing ESPN’s new $2.25 billion television deal with the SEC, ESPN’s executive vice president for programming acquisition and strategy John Wildhack said:
“This deal gives us an opportunity to associate ourselves with the preeminent athletic conference in the country. With all due respect to other conferences, there’s a passion and a fervor here that is unique.
“The SEC is king.”
Indeed, as the conference is so important to ESPN management as to neuter the editorial integrity of ESPN’s signature vehicle for sports journalism, Outside The Lines.
If one or more of those “seven full-time NCAA investigators” hired expressly to police the now SEC-banned activity of 7-on-7 football pays a visit to Mel Kiper, Jr., to investigate his 7-on-7 football business venture, is it unreasonable to assume ESPN will cover that up too?