TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The question appeared to catch Nick Saban by surprise, which doesn't happen very often.
How would you characterize your relationship with ESPN and how has that evolved?
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for media all over the country," Saban said during his press conference Wednesday evening. "We have a lot of good relationships with a lot of people. ESPN, obviously, is one of the people that do a great job, in my opinion, with college football. They're a great partner of the SEC, as is CBS."
With Alabama's game against Texas A&M on CBS, the Crimson Tide has had 126 nationally televised games since the start of the 2008 season, including every game since the start of the 2014 season when the SEC Network was created.
But those haven't been the only times Saban's been on ESPN.
They've done two behind-the-scene shows about the Crimson Tide. He's had reporters ride along the drive to work and personalities done stories from his house and boat.
Over the past decade, College GameDay has visited more sites of Alabama games than another program. Saban has served as an analyst for the network for the National Championship Game. One or two ESPN reporters usually make an appearance on Saban's radio show each season, most recently Chris Low
Even former quarterback turned analyst Greg McElroy often does his remote segments for shows from the Alabama football building.
ESPN doesn't have a reporter on campus every day, but it's close, and the network is quick to show some of the livelier moments from Saban's press conferences. He also snapped at sideline reporter Maria Taylor after the Louisville game, for which he apologized the next day.
"We have a lot of good relationships with a lot of people," Saban said "ESPN, obviously, is one of the people that do a great job, in my opinion, with college football. They're a great partner of the SEC, as is CBS. They have given us a very fair shake in everything that we've done. Sometimes we get criticized but I think sometimes when you get criticized, the first question you have to ask is 'Do I deserve to be criticized?' because sometimes you do. You can't just get mad just because you get criticized.
"But I think there have been a lot of positive things, because I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lee Fitting, who runs that whole organization and operation up there when it comes to college football, Kirk Herbstreit, a lot of the people that work in that organization. I was very pleased with the quality of what they did. Like for the Training Days thing they did here for four shows. I thought that was really quality, and everything that we've ever done with them. Tom Rinaldi, those guys are really first class. There are a lot of first-class people in the media on a national basis. We respect what you all do for all of our players. They get a lot of attention, a lot of self-gratification, they get a lot of recognition for the hard work that they do and when they perform well they benefit from some of those things."
In 2008, the SEC signed a 15-year deal with ESPN reportedly worth more than $2 billion. In 2012 it reportedly paid $7.3 billion to broadcast all College Football Playoff games from 2014 through 2025.
The SEC Network is also a partnership between the league the two giants.
There's absolutely no denying what the top draw is, Alabama and Saban, and the network gives the Crimson Tide an enormous amount of exposure that pays off in more ways than money.
For example, the coach did a lengthy interview on the latest "Herbstreit & Fitzsimmons" ESPN podcast (and said "I feel great, I mean I love the process."), just a couple of days after Herbstreit raved about the Crimson Tide offense and Tua Tagovailoa on ESPN's show "Get Up."
"What Tua's doing is not fair to the rest of the planet," Herbstreit told ESPN's 'Get Up.' "He's out there doing things that we only see when playing video games. You're almost starting to run out of positive things to say about him because every week he continues to raise the bar. By the way, it's not just Tua, it's the players around him -- the receivers, the running backs, the offensive line, Mike Locksley calling the plays. It's kind of the perfect storm which we predicted before the season started how good he could potentially be as a distributor in that offense, and I don't think he's going to go away."
Neither is ESPN around the Crimson Tide or its coach.