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Dear Texas A&M and Missouri: Beware the Jefferson Pilot Games

Previously: Welcome to SEC Media Days

Dear Texas A&M and Missouri,

During your time interacting with other SEC fans, you're inevitably going to hear people mention Jefferson Pilot. They most likely aren't going to know what the company does, or more accurately, did. I had to look it up; it was an insurance company that was bought by Lincoln Financial in 2006.

Jefferson Pilot had a TV and radio division however, and it produced the regional syndication package for SEC sports for many years prior to the massive ESPN deal that the conference signed a few years back. It was a very memorable outfit, largely due to its low production values. Even as TV technology progressed over the years, the JP Sports games often felt like they were filmed on tripod-mounted camcorders.

The analysts were earnest if not the best, and by the end of the pre-ESPN run, it famously featured a crew of three guys named "Dave". The play-by-play guy was Dave Neal, the color guy was Dave Rowe, and the sideline reporter was Dave Baker. When Rowe had to leave due to illness, he was replaced by Dave Archer. If you hear about "the Daves", these guys are who is being referenced. Neal survived the transition to ESPN, where he's now sentenced assigned to doing games with Andre Ware on the "SEC Network" regional syndication package that succeeded JP/Lincoln Financial/Raycom Sports (it went through a few different names near the end).

The JP Sports games were always last in the pecking order for getting games, so they were generally pretty bad except on weekends when the conference slate is packed with good games. It's where you'd get stinkers like when division doormats played or terrible blowouts when some notable power school took on one of those doormats. They were always early in the day in the noon hour Eastern time because CBS and ESPN had the prime mid-afternoon and evening time slots locked up.

One of the side effects of playing early in the day is that those power teams sometimes didn't show up ready to play. The most famous such incident is probably 2002's Bluegrass Miracle, when LSU somehow beat Kentucky on a last-play Hail Mary.

Of course the JP Sports producers put the wrong final score up. You wouldn't have expected anything else.

Everyone has a different definition of "upset", but when I looked at SEC upsets a while back, I chose this one: any time a team that finished with at least two fewer conference wins than its opponent won a game, it's an upset. So for instance, a team that finished 5-3 in conference play beating a team that finished 7-1 is an upset. A 6-2 team beating a 7-1 team is not an upset. The time span I looked at was 2002-2010, as that's the span of the ESPN box score archive and it has time of game data. I haven't updated it using the 2011 season just yet.

Anyway, I found that overall, upsets happen about 5.2% of the time when a game is a mismatch (i.e. could possibly yield an upset). However, I found that upsets come far more often early in the day when kickoff fell in the 12:00-2:30 Eastern window. Then, when many of the games were on JP Sports or its successors, the rate of upsets jumped to 6.5% of mismatches. That rate dropped to 3.2% in the mid-afternoon (3:00-5:45 Eastern), and it dropped again to 2.4% at night. All told, upsets happen more than twice as often in the SEC early in the day, which includes the JP Sports broadcasts, than during the rest of the day (a combined 2.8% rate). I've done similar analysis on the Big 10, Pac-10, and Big 12 over the same time period, and none of them have a similar upset pattern.

You'll hear grumbling from the power schools in the conference about having games end up as the SEC Network Game of the Week, sometimes expressed as "JP Sports" or "the Jefferson Pilot game". Often times its merely because we prefer our games to be at night when stadiums are at their best and people have had all day to tailgate. It's also because there is a popular perception that favorites come out flat in those early games and end up quite vulnerable against underdogs. That perception led me to do the upset research, and it turns out to be well founded.

So beware the Jefferson Pilot games. The first time you find yourself matched up against Kentucky or Ole Miss in a 12:21 Eastern kick, strap yourself in for a harrowing ride.