Though there is a committee that determines the four teams in the College Football Playoff, it would be naïve to think ESPN doesn’t exert extreme influence. That’s not to suggest the network would do anything nefarious, but you don’t want to irk the power brokers.
No, the “P” in ESPN doesn’t stand for petty.
But based on their broadcast of the Washington-Cal football game Saturday night, and the commentary preceding it, it very well could have.
The network clearly had its camera cords all in a wad over UW coach Chris Petersen’s comments earlier in week lamenting the Huskies’ series of evening games. Or maybe it was the fact Petersen didn’t deign to grant them an in-person production meeting, as is the custom for coaches in televised games.
The former drew a rebuke from their top analyst, Kirk Herbstreit, who said on ESPN’s College GameDay, that the Huskies “should be thanking ESPN” for carrying their games and thus giving them, and the Pac-12, more exposure. Well, actually, they’re carrying the games — having, yes, paid handsomely for the rights — because they’ve deemed it profitable to do so, not out of any obligation to promote the Pac-12.
Then, in the game broadcast, announcers Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore expressed pique over Petersen’s desire to conduct the customary production meeting over the phone — as he does for all the Huskies’ televised games, regardless of network. They turned down the offer, and then Jones chastised “the irascible and somewhat cantankerous head coach, Chris Petersen.”
Despite being of dubious accuracy — Merriam-Webster defines “irascible” as “marked by hot temper and easily provoked anger,” which certainly doesn’t describe the coach I’ve seen for the past three-plus seasons — taking this grievance onto the air was, well, petty.
I won’t even get into the whole cupcake thing, which, while being part of a weekly food schtick by the sideline reporter, Quint Kessenich, was just juvenile.
But here’s the upshot: The last thing Petersen and the Huskies need is to get into a feud with ESPN, the kingpins of college football — even a one-sided feud that they don’t want any part of. Though there is a 13-person committee that determines the four teams to participate in the College Football Playoff, it would be naïve to think ESPN — which in 2012 paid $7.3 billion over 12 years for the playoff broadcasting rights — doesn’t exert extreme influence in the world of college football.
That’s not to suggest the network would do anything nefarious or underhanded to keep out the Huskies. But you don’t want to irk the power brokers, which the Huskies seem to have done, intentionally or not. I honestly believe that Petersen merely thought he was standing up for aggrieved Husky fans who don’t like the late starts. And here’s what he said Monday about the production meetings:
“I think I’ve spoken to everybody since I’ve been here on the phone, and take as much time as they want,” he said. “You know, the media thing is important, I get that. But there is always a line that you’ve got to draw — we’ve got to take care of our team. We’ve got a bunch of other things to do. Since I’ve been here, I think every week I’ve always spoken to production people for at least a half-hour, or whatever they want — every week.”
Sounds more like single-mindedness, and maybe a little stubbornness, than irascibility. As for the potential downside to upsetting ESPN, Petersen said, “I don’t know about that. I don’t have any of the answers and all that stuff. All I know is the better we do, the better it is for Washington on the field.”
Perhaps the truest thing Petersen said is this, when asked if there comes a point he feels he has to stand up for his program when people are attacking Washington’s non-conference schedule:
“What I always think is, and I say this, this is like a political job. I’m not really a political guy. I just try to be honest, and there are certain times you do stand up for certain things, and then you move on. What I need to do is move on and concentrate on Arizona State (UW’s next opponent). That’s the most important thing for us.”
As Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott pointed out during his halftime media session at Husky Stadium on Saturday night, the paradox is that the Huskies are creating this scheduling problem for themselves by virtue of their success.
“What we’ve found over the last couple of years, the night games rate better than the day games,’’ he said. “What tends to happen, the better you do, the more attractive you are for TV, and the more you’re going to get scheduled at night.”
Scott made it clear — in a far more tactful manner than ESPN — that he wasn’t buying Petersen’s claim that the night starts hurt exposure. While acknowledging that “it’s a very delicate balancing act,” he made the valid point that he negotiated the television contract based on a mandate from Pac-12 schools that he increase the revenue and increase the number of nationally televised games.
“All of our schools went in with their eyes wide open that it was going to mean some tradeoffs and some pain points for our fans,’’ he said. “That was a conscious decision.”
At some point soon, I’d expect Scott to help broker a détente between UW and ESPN. Considering that the Huskies could be a borderline playoff candidate, just like they were last year, they’re going to need all the friends they can get.
I reached out to the UW-Cal game producer Monday to get their side of the broadcast and its repercussions, but the offer was declined through the network’s public-relations department:
“At this point, our producers and commentators are moving forward and preparing for week 7, which we are lucky to have Washington again.”
Yes, it’s another 7:45 p.m. start. Stay, as the saying goes, tuned.