The first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2021 season ignited a hot debate over unbeaten Cincinnati’s standing. Despite an 8-0 record and a No. 2 spot in the AP poll, the Bearcats were slotted at No. 6 by the CFP committee. Shortly after, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco went to bat for his schools.

Aresco called the CFP a “Power 5 Invitational.” He later told The Athletic he just “want(s) a fair assessment.” Criticisms of fairness within the overall system aren’t a new talking point, and ESPN has often found itself in the crosshairs in that regard.

Speaking on “SEC This Morning” on Friday, ESPN’s Chris Fowler took exception with the notion of anything nefarious.

“‘The fix is in’ bothers me. ‘The fix is in’ implies that there is this collaborative effort to downgrade that team,” Fowler said of the Bearcats. “I’ve known Mike (Aresco) forever, I like Mike, he’s got a job to do and that’s a very popular opinion for his base, but do you think that there’s a fix?

“I really get pissed off, honestly, as the presenter of the Playoff that somehow ESPN weighs in, or somehow ESPN, I know this is your world, but wants 2 SEC teams in the bracket. We want balance and parity, guys. We want a less top-heavy sport. I long ago figured out we don’t control the outcomes of games and we sure as hell don’t control the rankings. We do whatever’s presented to us and happily with great gratitude. If you could choose, you want teams from all regions involved. You don’t want the same old, same old. You don’t want 3, 4 teams from the Southeast in the bracket. That is not what the customer nationally wants.

“If you’re going to be real and talk about conspiracies, and evil television networks in the business part of it, understand the landscape a little bit better than some folks do.”