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Why we're mad about Kenny Chesney being College GameDay celebrity picker

How a seemingly innocuous production decision started a wildfire.

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Lifelong Red Sox fan Kenny Chesney cheers on his favorite team
Lifelong Red Sox fan Kenny Chesney cheers on his favorite team

Many South Carolina fans (including this one) are not pleased that ESPN selected Kenny Chesney to be the celebrity picker on College GameDay. On Friday, GameDay producer Lee Fitting offered a response to the criticism that he described as perhaps the most vocal they've received in years.

There are no rules that say he has to be tied to the school. That's another crazy fan mentality thing is they have to be tied to a school. Who says that? I'd love to meet the person who comes up with those rules.

We're trying to have someone entertaining, high profile and fun. In an ideal world, we'd have an A-list celebrity that graduated from the school we're at every week, but that's impossible. It's amazing to have Chesney on. Trust me, I didn't lose any sleep over the fans reaching out expressing their displeasure.

He's right. ESPN doesn't owe us a damn thing. The celebrity picker is a creation of Lee Fitting and the GameDay braintrust. They can and should do whatever the hell they want with it. I understand that. Everyone who is upset that Chesney will appear on GameDay understands that.

But here's the thing. Whether they intended it or not, College GameDay's past practice of inviting celebrities affiliated with the host school created an expectation that they would take a similar approach this weekend in Columbia. Instead, ESPN chose to deviate from that pattern. That probably would have gone over better if there weren't so many beloved South Carolina alumni in town for the game and if GameDay had invited anyone -- anyone at all --other than noted skinchanger and ESPN business partner Kenny Chesney, who oh by the way just so happens to have a new album that he would very much like to sell you.

For me, frustration with the first few months of the ESPN-owned SEC Network added to the kindling. At every opportunity to make an interesting creative choice, the Worldwide Leader has instead opted for bland, synergistic ones that reek of rich people shaking hands and patting each other on the back. Outside of live broadcasts and replays of classic games, the SEC Network's programming has been entirely non-essential. It appears that when they told us that the network would be a 24/7 advertisement for the 14 member schools, they were more serious than we knew.

The string of disappointments includes The Believer, the Chesney-produced and -narrated documentary about the life and career of Steve Spurrier, which too often felt like a 90-minute advertisement for the fact that Kenny Chesney is friends with Steve Spurrier. The film fell flat because the filmmakers, including Chesney, romanticized their subject instead of making a bona fide effort to study it. What could have been a fascinating dissection of a brilliant and imperfect human being instead became an hour and a half of fan service.

Here, too, ESPN could have made an interesting choice that would have forged an emotional connection with South Carolina fans while also making for a compelling television spectacle. America likes celebrating war heroes, right? It just so happens that a Medal of Honor recipient is a student at South Carolina who by now has plenty of experience on camera.

Instead, they gave free ad space to a multimillionaire who did them a solid a few months back. Sorry if I'm having a hard time feigning gratitude.