Heisman Plus ESPN Equals Bu$ine$$

Created in 1935, the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Photo Courtesy: Steve Grant
Created in 1935, the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is awarded to the college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.
Photo Courtesy: Steve Grant

By Wendell Barnhouse

Breaking news: The 2015 college football season ends Saturday.

Full disclosure: OK, it’s just the virtual end to the season. We’ve still got 40 (gag!) bowls and a national championship. But Saturday’s Heisman Trophy announcement (7-8:30 p.m. CST, ESPN) marks the unofficial end to the regular season. (The argument that voting for the Heisman should be held after bowl games will be saved for another time. I feel ya, Vince Young.)

Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Stanford’s Christian McCaffery and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson are the three finalists. That announcement was made Monday minutes after the voting closed. Any of the three would be worthy winners (Vegas likes Henry, ESPN’s experts and others project McCaffery).

When the finalists were announced, there was some surprise – and, at the two schools, disappointment – that Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds weren’t on the list. Let me tell you why they weren’t.


The Heisman is perhaps this country’s signature individual trophy. It used to be a quaint affair. Paul Hornung got word he won via a phone call. Barry Sanders, the 1988 winner, was actually playing in Oklahoma State’s final regular-season game – against Texas Tech … in Tokyo – when he was announced as the winner.

Now, college football is corporate. The Heisman Trophy Trust has a corporate sponsor (Nissan and The Heisman House – thank God those incessant commercials are at least clever) and a TV partner in ESPN.

The World Wide Leader has been televising the Heisman presentation since 1994. The show is 90 minutes of interviews, highlights and features before the three to five minutes of drama when the award is announced and presented.

The Stiff Armed Trophy and the Multi-Tentacle Cable Channel make great partners. The Heisman is presented in high-profile fashion and ESPN’s GameDay crew gets a prime-time showcase.

But again, it’s about business.

The Heisman Trophy Trust’s ballot allows voters to select/rank three. So, it makes sense to just invite the top three although there have been years when more than three were invited.

Limiting the invitees to the top three vote getters makes sense, but only from a business sense. No need to waste transportation and two nights of NYC lodging for two “losers,” their families and school officials. And three finalists fit better in ESPN’s presentation/show flow.

In a year where the Heisman field was week-to-week fluid, why not allow Mayfield and Reynolds the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being a Heisman finalist?

Mayfield is a great story, a walk on who won the quarterback job at two schools and has led the Sooners into the College Football Playoff.

Reynolds might be a better story. He set the Football Bowl Subdivision record for career rushing touchdowns with 83 and became Navy’s career rushing leader. And with Navy playing Army in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon, the school had made arrangements to fly him via helicopter to NYC. (If Navy wins, Reynolds will be the first QB in the 116-game series to go 4-0).

But Mayfield and Reynolds will not have their stories told. Their names will just be listed in the final vote totals.

What I call good public relations and benevolent storytelling, the Heisman Trust and ESPN call business.