The Open Man Q&A: ESPN and the College Football Landscape; An Idea for James Gunn


Great topics in this week’s Q&A, so I won’t belabor the intro. Just a few housekeeping items:

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In an era of multiple alternates and routinely changing looks, traditionally iconic looks standout. The cardinal-and-gold USC uniform still worn today invokes memories through various stages of my college football fandom: Keith Jackson calling Saturday afternoon action on ABC in my childhood; the rise of a dynasty as I took the first steps toward covering the sport professionally; and today, having been on the sidelines and in the press box for a variety of memorable moments in USC football.

One such memorable moment came last season against Texas, which also makes my Jersey Playoff. Texas is another program with a classic and timeless look. In particular, the Longhorns home jerseys combine history with a unique look; burnt orange is different enough from every other shade or orange worn in college football to separate Texas in a memorable way.

The only tradition when it comes to jerseys at Oregon is that it’s the Ducks’ tradition to rock new looks continuously. Credit Oregon for starting the era of alternates, though it took the program time to master its looks. The Joey Heisman era threads look like Arena Football League get-ups; the years that followed included those atrocious diamond-plating gimmicks.

After years of tinkering, however, Oregon’s current green jersey is perfect. It’s eye-catching without being distracting, and it works well with yellow pants/helmets or an all-green look.

My fourth and final: As an advocate for the Group of Five, I’d be remiss to leave out a representative. One program that mastered combining its tradition with integrating a fresh new vibe: San Diego State.

The current Aztecs uniforms maintain a feel similar to Marshall Faulk garnering the national spotlight in the early 1990s, while also having a modern twist.

Juice Robinson’s popularity among the Japanese audience is wild. Breaking down how over various face acts go, Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi (before his injury) occupied the top tier alongside longtime promotional ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kenny Omega. But Robinson is arguably in the next tier down with a group including SANADA and Tomohiro Ishii.

Juice’s support is the pure babyface response, too, which separates him from record-setting IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada. Okada’s no doubt over, but audiences are firmly split on his brash, arrogant character. If he continues to progress in the ring, his support should swell, which may very well make him a candidate for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

It’s quite remarkable that former NXT enhancement talent C.J. Parker is now arguably the best-booked WWE Performance Center alum. Juice’s overseas transformation is reminiscent of Mark Jindrak, a product of the WCW Power Plant in the promotion’s dying days, who just never clicked in WWE. Jindrak went to Mexico and garnered a tremendous following in short order, quickly becoming CMLL’s main-event act.

That said, Juice winning NJPW’s top prize feels like a stretch at present. The company has been historically hesitant to put the championship on a gaijin, or foreign talent. Before A.J. Styles defeated Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2014, the last foreigner to hold the title was Brock Lesnar nine years earlier, who pulled a very Brock Lesnar-like power play and took the belt hostage.

The all-time list of gaijin IWGP champions is short: Americans Big Van Vader, Scott Norton, Bob Sapp, Lesnar and Styles; Russian Salman Hashimikov; and current Canadian-born champion, Omega. While NJPW’s global expansion, and especially into the United States, does offer perhaps greater opportunity, Robinson’s currently positioned third in the pecking-order of primary English-speakers behind Omega and New Zealander, “Switchblade” Jay White — though Robinson besting White for the IWGP United States Championship does plant the seeds for a potential main-event rivalry between the two.

As NJPW expands internationally, I anticipate WWE accelerating its efforts to homogenize the wrestling business. That includes bringing back talent cast off in previous eras who reinvented themselves elsewhere, like Drew McIntyre. But Juice also runs the risk of returning after flourishing in Japan and being saddled with a horrendous gimmick that doesn’t click, like Lord Tensai or Albert.

Albert is arguably the most over foreign NJPW talent to not hold the IWGP Championship, though he knocked on the door several times. His improved ring presence in Japan got him back to WWE, but his goofy character immediately derailed any hope of his push upon return clicking. Juice at least has the opportunity to main event in NJPW; I cannot envision him being any higher on the card than lower-half in WWE.

Now, should it happen for Juice, here’s the order in which he falls among wrestlers in line for a title run:

1. Naito: He’s Stone Cold Steve Austin in late 1997 over.
2. Okada: The new ace will get the title back at some point.
3. Ishii: A potential transition reign in recognition of his great matches and overall dedication; think Togi Makabe’s reign.
4. Jay White: Perhaps playing into an Okada-Ishii angle, and furthering his corrupting influence gimmick to lead to CHAOS splitting and a dramatic restructuring of the NJPW stables, which is already underway with Bullet Club’s split.
5. SANADA: Tensions have been teased with Naito in the G1. SANADA is a main-event talent, and works as the most likely breakaway star in a potential LIJ shakeup.
6. Juice: Continuously improving, popular with Japanese crowds and potentially marketable to the burgeoning American audience.

Given how IWGP Championship reigns often go, however, I say 2020 at the absolute earliest.

This one is an under-the-radar important story for the state of college football, and the influence one outlet has over the sport. I’ve written and said this before, but it bears repeating: ESPN is an easy target because of its size, and it’s also been unfairly jabbed by disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst media hucksters looking to use its notoriety to build their own brands.

That said, the network wields considerable power, and the car wash nontroversy details some inherent issues with one entity controlling so much of the narrative.

Chris Petersen flying across the country the first week of practices is a hilarious notion. We, meaning the college football commentariat, really don’t talk enough about how childish and embarrassing the cupcake bit ESPN aired on a Washington game last season really was.

I don’t mean to turn this topic into a lecture on context, but Washington’s “cupcake” schedule last season featured games at Rutgers and vs. Fresno State. The Rutgers series was brokered in the 2014 offseason, coming off the Scarlet Knights’ eighth bowl appearance in the previous nine seasons; one year removed from Rutgers won a share of the Big East (more on that in a moment); and a few months prior to Rutgers joining the Big Ten.

The Fresno State series was brokered in the spring of 2015. The Bulldogs had just played in their 14th bowl game out of the last 16 seasons, and a year earlier, had been in the driver’s seat to crash the BCS. Scheduling in good faith before a program hits hard times is much different than actively seeking out cupcakes — like, say, scheduling FCS opponents on the 12th week of the regular season, for which Tim Tebow offered a shouty defense on the ESPN family of networks just a few weeks after the pathetic Washington sideline segment.

What’s more, one of the teams on Washington’s “cupcake” nonconference schedule, Fresno State? The Bulldogs ended the regular season ranked No. 25, played in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game, and were ultimately the highest-rated nonconference opponent on Alabama‘s schedule last season. So in addition to being lacking in context, it was also wrong.

The cupcake gimmick was part of a month-long berating Petersen took from the Worldwide Leader. For him specifically, I completely understand skipping the event. Frankly, David Shaw had worthwhile reason to skip in light of the misrepresentation of recruiting comments he made on the Paul Finebaum Show.

Honestly, I don’t blame any coach who skips the ESPN car wash. Conferences have media day events for a reason, and a network that could dedicate a reporter to covering Ball family shenanigans in Lithuania could knock out its conveyor belt of preseason interviews in Hollywood.

I would posit that I’m surprised more coaches don’t skip the car wash, but I’m also wise to reality. ESPN influences much of the national conversation on college football, which can have real impact on shaping the sport’s landscape. It’s especially the case in instances wherein ESPN has a business stake.

I referred previously to the Big East: During the uncertainty of conference realignment — and amid rumors larger conferences like prominent ESPN business partner the SEC were consolidating power in the transition away from the BCS — the Big East entered into contract negotiations with Disney. The conference also sought deals elsewhere, including with NBC.

At this same time, I vividly remember watching Big East football telecasts on ESPN wherein broadcasters trashed the quality of the product. It was stupefying; why was such vitriol being dedicated to a game they were calling? It was like they were begging viewers to change the channel. I cop to some tinfoil hat-wearing on this matter, but the various coincidences preceded the Big East losing several members to other conferences and the dissolution of the conference from football, with the remaining pieces merging with Conference USA refugees to form the American.

Oh, for the sake of context, I should add this was during the 2012 season — after West Virginia slaughtered Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and a few months before Louisville ran all over Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

The Big East provides valuable context, because when you’re talking about an entity that essentially owns the sport’s postseason — including the College Football Playoff — you can’t dismiss the potential long-term impact of feuds and grudges.

Sleepaway Camp is one of those movies that has gained cult popularity in recent years, with a growing subculture built around appreciation for low-budget, B-movies. Had Sleepaway Camp been produced by a major studio, it wouldn’t have the prominence it does nearly 40 years after its release.

The storyline is both convoluted and far too simplistic. Spoilers if you haven’t seen this early 1980s slasher, but it becomes obvious early into the film that Angela is the killer; the only way her cousin, Ricky, could have been a more obvious red herring is if he’d actually been named Red Herring like the background character from A Pup Named Scooby Doo.

What’s more, Sleepaway Camp is only memorable for its twist ending. Watching feels, uh…like you should expect a visit from the authorities?…and also somewhat transphobic, equating Angela’s homicidal rage with her upbringing.

In other words, that’s a hard no from me on Sleepaway Camp. However, I can offer an enthusiastic YES on the other topic in this question: A reboot of The Toxic Avenger with a bigger budget. I even have a road map for the concept.

Frankly, I’m somewhat surprised Troma Films has not capitalized on the booming popularity of superhero movies with a Toxic Avenger update. Toxie is the studio’s most recognizable and marketable character, having spawned three sequels, a children’s cartoon — which is MIND-BLOWING to me — and a currently touring stage production.

Now, the Toxic Avenger sequels are pretty terrible: The third made efforts to go mainstream without success, and the fourth returned to its raunchy roots with a movie that’s way too Early 2000s Edgelord. However, a reboot could and would be a mainstream success with this formula:

Bring Aboard James Gunn

James Gunn proved he can make a smash-hit with a niche superhero property, directing the film adaptation of the once-dormant Marvel property, Guardians of the Galaxy. Disney booted him under bad-faith pressure, making him a free agent.

Gunn’s roots go back to Troma, where he directed Tromeo and Juliet in 1996. Bringing his mainstream success and clout lends credibility to the project.

Empty the Expense Acccount

The original concept is a big-budget Toxic Avenger, which goes against the ethos of Troma. However, the studio’s biggest budget effort of its heyday — Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD — is also my favorite Troma film. It’s the most artistically well-done, and shows the potential for blending low-budget style with a bigger budget.

I do have a caveat for this bigger budget, though, which will help separate the film (and franchise!) in a crowded superhero marketplace.

Practical Effects

Superhero films are all CGI, CGI, CGI. James Gunn’s mainstream, breakout endeavor — the 2006 horror-comedy Slither — showcases both the magic of practical effects, and Gunn’s ability to showcase such effects.

Relying primarily on practical effects would give a Toxic Avenger reboot a quality differentiating it from the rest of the genre, including from other adult titles like Deadpool.


As mentioned, the original Toxic Avenger sequels are bad. However, a reboot has extensive franchise possibilities — including a team-up with Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD.

Troma never made a proper team-up of the two marquee characters, despite Kabukiman calling Manhattan home, and Toxie’s Tromaville digs in New Jersey sitting just across the Hudson. With the success Marvel enjoyed combining its franchises, Troma has its own potential mega-franchise relaunching both Toxie and Kabukiman, leading to an eventual super-pairing.