thewwl.jpgI have a confession.

But first. See that?

That’s a screenshot of ESPN’s headline from the Website’s home page earlier today. Clicking the picture won’t do you any good. Clicking here will take you to the story. It’s a rundown of the 10 easiest schedules in the upcoming college football season.

My initial reaction was, “Oh hey. I already did the exact same thing.”

Then I read it.

My second reaction was, “Hmmm… he’s got pretty much the exact same teams on the list that I had on mine.”

Even then I didn’t think much of it. It’s not like it’s the most original idea in the first place. And the schedules aren’t secrets. So, after looking at them, Mark Schlabach came to pretty much the same conclusion I did.

Actually, he came to the exact same conclusion. And by “exact” I mean “almost exact.”

Here’s Schlabach’s list:

1. Kansas
2. Hawaii
3. Arkansas
4. Indiana
5. Connecticut
6. Navy
7. Northwestern
8. Texas Tech
9. Ohio State
10. Texas

Here’s my list (Clickable, if you’ve got some time):

1. The Entire Big East
2. Hawaii
3. Kansas
4. Ohio State
5. Texas Tech
6. Navy
7. Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana (tie)
8. New Mexico
9. Texas
10. Notre Dame

Okay, so I squeezed 18 teams into a 10-team list. But with the exception of New Mexico, the lists are the same just with the rankings jumbled a bit.

It might not look like it, but allow me to explain. First, you can pull Notre Dame off the list as I was explicit in their post that the Irish didn’t actually have the 10th toughest schedule; but instead I was using them to make a point about schedules in general.

I made a separate post about the near misses and essentially said that Arkansas was my Number 11. So bump them up to Number 10 in ND’s place. For my entire Big East, read Schlabach’s Connecticut. And toss out New Mexico, get rid of the logjam at Number 7, and you’ve got the same list, order notwithstanding, with only Minnesota leftover.

But even after that I didn’t think that Schlabach had pilfered anything. I looked at it more of confirmation that I was pretty much dead on.

Then I actually read the little blurbs.

What he wrote for Northwestern was pretty much what I wrote. Well, I wrote a bit more, but the gist was identical: with the Wildcats’ four non-conference cupcakes and two easiest conference games, they are almost bowl eligible before they suit up.

Schlabach gave Texas credit for scheduling “BCS sleeper” TCU, I almost gave Texas credit for scheduling TCU before deconstructing the Horned Frogs as paper reptiles.

Schlabach took a poke at Ohio State for barely leaving the state of Ohio. I took a poke at Ohio State for barely leaving the state of Ohio.

It was a little more curiouser and curiouser. Even without those similarities—and there are only so many things you can say about a schedule—out of a 119 teams, nine of the ten on the two lists were identical (and again, I mean “almost identical”).

But I still don’t think Schlabach ripped off anything.

Of course, if it turned out that someone somewhere at ESPN did “research” on his behalf or something else uncredited with notes pulled from someplace landed in his inbox, the surprise quotient on that would be a Blutarsky (please don’t make me translate that into a 0.00).

I’ve just got a dinky blog, true. But that post (or series of posts) got the Deadspin bump. It was linked to from that website’s Leftovers section (pre-redeisgn). And relative to other posts I’ve had linked, the traffic spike for this one was a couple orders of magnitude larger. Oh, and it lasted for two days.

From that, it got picked up by dozens of different college boards on Rivals and other places. So clicks kept coming in for several days after (and are still trickling in). Sure, while my numbers for these couple of days are what the 4-letter does in an decent afternoon, the total was fairly hefty (put it this way, for those two days I drew more traffic than Schilling’s ’38 Pitches’ blog (but I still couldn’t eclipse the damn lolcats)). Point being: plenty of people saw the list.

I wouldn’t have thought even that much about it if this hadn’t appeared in Blogdome today.

It’s a non-comprehensive list of the WWL’s egregious violations of anything remotely resembling journalistic integrity. One of the entries was Schrutebag’s verbatim theft of the M Zone’s fake Wonderlic test without crediting the source.

The show defended itself by saying that someone sent it to them, they had no idea, etc.

And it’s totally plausible. They probably do get so much shit to sort through that they can barely look at it all. Plus all of the outlets combined—ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio, ESPN Mobile… oh, oops—have so much time to fill with content that they’ll probably take shit from anywhere without ever thinking twice about it.

Maybe the Schlabach list was nothing more than complete coincidence. Probably, but if it wasn’t, would it surprise anyone?

Incidentally, there was a second part of the 100% Injury Rate post that got me thinking about something else. They noted that with the addition of NASCAR rights, the WWL now runs a show called NASCAR Now, and with the Arena League, they now actual treat that league as if it’s news. In fact today (Tuesday, July 3) ESPN was running AFL scores from last Friday and Saturday on the crawl.

Uh, people don’t care about Arena Football scores when they are happening, much less five days after they were never news to begin with. These aren’t the only two examples of this. In fact seems more and more of ESPN programming is just promotion for other programming.

But back to Schlabach’s list. Among my many reactions was my questioning of Connecticut’s inclusion as the only Big East team. In fact the first comment, from a mister pitbull800, on the Conversation (insert TM sign here) said the same thing:

“How is every Big East team not on the list. [sic] Especially Louisville. There is one game in the conference, Louisville and West Virginia, everything else is a Joke [sic]. Let Rutger’s [sic] play in the SEC east and see how many games they win.”

Rutgers’ schedule is exceptionally weak. They have only 4 road games and don’t even leave the state until mid-October to play a Syracuse team that has won 1 conference game in two years.

Of their three toughest games—Maryland, West Virginia, Louisville—two are at home. Compare that to the Razorback’s schedule—with away games at LSU, at Alabama, and at Tennessee—that Schlabach pillories. All of the other crap being equal (and it’s not as the SEC crap is far tougher than the Big East conference crap) those three games alone should make Arkansas’ season slate tougher than Rutgers.

Echoing the thoughts of pitbull800, I wondered how the hell that happened. Shaving with Occam’s Razor, you get maybe three explanations:

1) It was just an oversight.

Maybe, but doesn’t he work at ESPN, shouldn’t he be better than that? And I find it hard to fathom that he looked at UConn’s schedule, but at no other Big East team’s.

2) He honestly believes that Arkansas at LSU, at Alabama, and at UT is not as tough as Rutgers playing Maryland, West Viriginia and at Louisville.

He’d be wrong.

3) ESPN has Big East games featured on Thursday nights and the network can’t let someone badmouth the league for fear of negatively impacting ratings. Having a list full of Big East teams would lower people’s perception of the league and maybe make them less likely to watch those games. Taking a shot at maybe the 6th best team in the conference does minimal damage.

I can’t find a reason to discount #3. As the list on 100% Injury Rate makes clear, ESPN or, more generally Disney, values synergy maybe more than anything else, while making editorial integrity one of the first casualties in the war for ratings.

And Schlabach might be totally above that. But he might not. It doesn’t matter. The problem is the second ESPN drags one person across that line, the second that they make one person wear an AFL shirt to work, they drag everyone else with them, be it Steven A., or be it a credible journalist.

Anyway, I’m not accusing anyone of theft. And I’m not angry. Well, if anything I’m angry at myself for selectively choosing which personalities at the WWL were acceptable as journalists and which weren’t, when none of them is (although, I’m probably still okay with Gammons).

So, what was my confession I alluded to at the start? Oh, I was going to write this long piece about how peculiarly similar an ESPN headline story was to something I had written, then bag on the network for becoming one giant shill.

Then I realized what a colossal waste of time that would be, and how horribly self-important it would make me sound.

I mean, if you are getting paid by ESPN and you’re pilfering from bloggers who do this in their spare time for fun, you pretty much suck more than a 1500-word essay’s worth of arguing could ever make clear.