Scott D. Pierce: Three Utah State games will stream on Facebook; ESPN still loves BYU

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah State Aggies run onto the field before the game at Maverik Stadium Thursday September 1, 2016.

We’re not talking about the players going online. Three USU games — Sept. 7 vs. Idaho State, Sept. 23 at San Jose State and Oct. 14 vs. Wyoming — will be produced for and streamed on Facebook.

Stadium, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting — the parent company of KUTV-Ch. 2, KMYU-Ch. 12 and KJZZ Ch. 14 in Utah (and 170 other stations around the country) — will produce the games for Facebook. The deal includes three other MWC matchups and nine Conference USA games this fall.

The Facebook games will have a Facebook feel, of course. We’re promised “live curated chat experiences” with “well-known and well-respected football personalities”; a “social production team and correspondents working the sidelines” that will “engage” the audience “in conversation”; and an “ongoing integration of real-time social elements provided by the competing schools.”

If it’s just fans from the two schools insulting each other, let’s hope there’s an easy and obvious way to mute all that.

For those of you who think ESPN doesn’t love BYU, (1) ESPN picked up the option year (2019) on its BYU football contract; (2) ESPN put together the LSU-BYU game that was supposed to be in Houston on Saturday; and (3) ESPN quickly moved the game to New Orleans because of the flooding in Texas.

Covering television for 27 years has made me skeptical — some would say cynical — about TV executives’ motives. But in the case of the Robert Lee “controversy” at ESPN , I’m siding with ESPN president John Skipper.

If you missed it, in a preliminary, unpublished schedule, sportscaster Robert Lee was originally assigned to call the Virginia-William & Mary game on Saturday. Following the events in Charlottesville, which were initially prompted by the plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the sportscaster was reassigned to the Pittsburgh-Youngstown State game.

According to Skipper, Lee was consulted about the change, and it was not made to prevent offending anyone. Lee was in no sense demoted; both games feature ACC teams vs. lower-division opponents on secondary outlets — the ACC Network and ESPN3.

However, longtime ESPN-hater Clay Travis at the website Outkick the Coverage blew this completely out of proportion, arguing it signaled the liberal bias he claims exists at ESPN. But the simplest answer is usually the right one — and the simplest answer is that ESPN execs was looking to head off headaches for Lee and themselves.

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