Media Bias: South Carolina or Clemson?

Writers and television broadcasters are notorious for getting on and off the proverbial bandwagon. When Clemson was winning 10 games a year and a National Championship in the early 1980's, the Tigers were clearly the media darling. When USC won just one game in two years, the Gamecocks were seemingly the laughingstock of print media.

Back in January of 2002, the University of South Carolina was riding a pretty big high on the football field. The Gamecocks had defeated Clemson 20-15 in Williams Brice Stadium just one month earlier before handing Big Ten power Ohio State a 3-point loss in the Outback Bowl.

Lou Holtz and the South Carolina Gamecocks were the media darlings of the state of South Carolina. They even had the Governor of South Carolina drooling over them with sideline visits and illegal recruiting tactics (note jab inserted for effect).

Meanwhile the Tigers had finished up a disappointing season by playing on a blue field in a bowl game we practically had to pay for to receive. Tommy Bowden and Clemson University, was the butt of media jokes left and right.

A year and a half later, most Clemson fans would state that South Carolina is still the media darling of the state. My question is, is this a fair assessment, and how did we get to this point?

Back in 2000, Allen Wallace (Editor of SuperPrep Magazine) said "I'm based out of Los Angeles and in my 15 years I've never seen a state with so much bias toward one school. Fans, the media, it's all skewed towards the University of South Carolina." Need I remind you that Wallace's SuperPrep Magazine is widely considered one of the top 3 or 4 recruiting services in the country.

Is there any truth in his comment? Does the media in South Carolina clearly favor the Gamecocks over Clemson? This very subject has been a popular topic of conversation among tailgating enthusiasts in both Clemson and Columbia over the course of the last few seasons.

In fact, one football player for the Tigers even went as far as to conduct a study on the different articles from newspapers around South Carolina for a specific period of time to statistically determine whether or not such a bias existed.

To no one's surprise, the results of the study were somewhat inclusive. However, the debate is still raging on through this day, and perhaps it will continue on indefinitely, or at least until either South Carolina or Clemson decides to drop their football program.

Does Governor-Gate Equal Favoritism?
Governor Hodges has done what few Governors in the history of the State of South Carolina have been able to do. He committed proverbial political suicide by ostracizing thousands of Clemson supporters with his recruitment scandal.

Simply put, there aren't too many blood boiling issues that can cause a Governor for this state to step on his own head, but the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry is certainly one of them. While not overly popular with the majority of uppity South Carolina boosters who tend to fall on the side of conservatism, Hodges was able to alienate the very people who had a large hand in electing him in 2000.

Who are those people you ask?

The vast middle class working people of South Carolina...many of whom are Clemson supporters and boosters.

The fact that Governor Hodges was an outspoken South Carolina fan is not the not the issue. You can't expect someone who graduates from a particular university and becomes a booster to that same university to all of a sudden be impartial just because he is elected to the Governorship.

Most Clemson fans can look past simple, good-natured sportsmanship when their elected Governor supports their rival school. But Hodges stepped in a pile of you know what because what he was doing was blatantly trying to assist the University of South Carolina in landing a prized recruit.

Forget for a moment that it was illegal, which it was. Hodges was blatantly trying to improve the University of South Carolina and their football team, even at the expense of the Clemson Tigers. I won't be the first to tell you that folks, does not sit too well in Clemson households.

The fallout of the meetings Hodges had with the student athletes only dug a deeper hole for the Governor as more allegations have since come to the surface. He maintained that this was the only time he had assisted the University of South Carolina in recruiting.

Oh really?

I won't be the first to tell you that those are the very kinds of statements that lead to investigations and additional findings. Hodges would have been better served to come clean on what he did being wrong, offer an apology, and move on. Instead, he left the door open to more embarrassment for him and the University of South Carolina.

Media Favoritism
Is the media unfairly punishing Hodges and USC because of the rivalry? Does the media favor the University of South Carolina? While most of you Tiger fans would answer that question with a resounding "yes," the true answer is very simply, "no."

Writers and television broadcasters are notorious for getting on and off the proverbial bandwagon. When Clemson was winning 10 games a year and a National Championship in the early 1980's, the Tigers were clearly the media darling. When USC won just one game in two years, the Gamecocks were the laughingstock of print media every Sunday after a loss. And now that the Gamecocks are winning games in bunches, the pendulum has defiantly shifted back to the garnet and black.

Another factor to keep in mind with regards to the South Carolina media is that Lou Holtz is a media whore. And I say that not meaning a bad word or a bad thing. Holtz has that folksy swagger to him that seems to melt the hearts of the media at every turn.

In what most people would term as an ironic statement, Lou Holtz actually reminds me of Bobby Bowden. Bowden does less coaching at FSU than I do for them here behind my computer, but he is hailed as a coaching God because of the success FSU has attained., and just as importantly, his "dadgum" wit with the media.

Tommy Bowden, unlike his father and Holtz, does not resonate with such warm fuzzies at press conferences. The younger Bowden tries, sometimes only to have the statements taken out of context and ending up with him wiping egg from his face. (anybody remember the DNR fiasco in Bowden's first year in Clemson?) The fact remains that Tommy Bowden is overshadowed by the caricature of Holtz.

Oddly enough, that may not be such a bad thing for Clemson University.

What Holtz has done at USC is remarkable, all cheating with the Governor aside. But the success of the Gamecock football team is more and more being attributed to Lou, the caricature, than the reality of a great staff Holtz has put together in Columbia.

The same media that credited Holtz for back-to-back New Years Day Bowl wins have failed to point the finger at Holtz for the dismal 2002 season that ended in 5 straight Gamecock losses. Holtz seems to walk between the bullets while Bowden seems to walk right into them.

The problem with that is when Lou goes...so does the aura of the Gamecock football program. Just ask those that have followed legendary coaches such as Dean Smith, Bear Bryant, Tom Osborne, and even our own Danny Ford.

Sure, most people will tell you that if Tommy Bowden fails to win more than 6 or 7 games this year, there is a good chance his career at Clemson will end. The Tigers will bring in a new coach, and life will go on. South Carolina could lose all 12 games next year and Holtz will not be fired. Actually, Holtz will never be fired. The media members know this, and it focuses their impressions towards Holtz in a more favorable way.

My point here is that everybody wants to interview Lou Holtz. He sells papers. Ostracizing him, or laying blame to him, is not the way to line up an exclusive interview with the man. Knowing that they will have to cover Holtz the for as long as he wants to coach at South Carolina forces the media into a position that will put a much more positive spin on the legendary coach.

That same thing cannot be said for Tommy Bowden. There is no such fear of alienating him, mainly because many in the media don't think he will be here too much longer should the Tigers continue to struggle.

My point is this: don't worry about which school the media is schmoozing. The media in general, has the attention span of a one-year-old child. If the newspapers want to ogle over Lou Holtz, don't lose a wink of sleep over it.

If Governor Hodges wants to pimp himself out to Holtz, just keep the chuckles to yourself.

All things in the media world eventually come back around.

What is good for you today can easily turnaround and bite you in the butt a year from now. As silly as the media can make you look for accepting a Humanitarian Bowl bid, they almost certainly will turn around and applaud you a year later for taking the bid because it created a great bonding experience for the young players on the team.

There are stories everywhere, both good and bad, and neither one of these in-state institutions are immune to either side of the equation for any extended amount of time. The media loves to both build up and tear down its story makers.

You can see that spin already turning with the weekly exposé's on South Carolina and the NCAA investigation. Of course, the bullets are not aimed directly at Lou Holtz. He has done "nothing" wrong.

But the bullets are flying nonetheless.

Right now, the Tigers, and head coach Tommy Bowden are flying just under the radar screen.

Just high enough to surprise everybody next fall, and just high enough to stay out of the perpetual glare of unattainable expectations that often follow a school with such a rich football tradition.

Just off the front page that has endless propaganda about how great your rival is, and most importantly, just where you want to be.

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