Following Kirk Herbstreit's comments Saturday morning, ESPN's play-by-play broadcaster called Petersen "irascible and somewhat cantankerous" Saturday night.
Chris Petersen wasn’t trying to pick a fight with ESPN. At least, it didn’t feel like he had any beef with the Worldwide Leader when he spent time last Monday lamenting Washington’s late kickoffs.
He called the after-dark kickoffs “painful.” He apologized to UW fans for all the late starts. He bemoaned that “no one” on the East Coast watches Pac-12 games that late.
What he did not do was point fingers at any one or any one entity. Not at Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. And not at ESPN.
ESPN, it seems, felt disrespected anyway — so much so that Kirk Herbstreit called out Petersen on “College GameDay” Saturday morning, saying the Huskies “should be thanking” ESPN for airing their games.
Petersen had to be taken aback by that.
Things got worse during ESPN’s broadcast of Saturday night’s UW-Cal game at Husky Stadium.
Late in the third quarter, ESPN sideline reporter Quint Kessenich placed three cupcakes — like, actual cupcakes — on the Husky Stadium turf to represent the Huskies’ three nonconference opponents. “Cupcakes and creampuffs out of conference,” he said, “which could ultimately put them in peril in terms of the College Football Playoff.”
He’s not wrong about that — the Huskies’ nonconference schedule (Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State) is indefensibly soft, as has been written here before. And if the Huskies don’t go undefeated during the regular season, there’s a chance the CFP committee could leave them out of the playoffs (even as, let’s say, a one-loss Pac-12 champ) in part because of that nonconference schedule.
All that said, can you imagine ESPN pulling that kind of stunt — lining up three cupcakes on the sideline during a game — at, oh, Alabama?
The Huskies have a right to feel a little insulted by that.
In the fourth quarter, ESPN play-by-play man Mark Jones piled on more, and in doing so offered another explanation for ESPN’s frustrations with Petersen.
“So 38-7 (is the score) for Washington, an impressive performance,” Jones said. “And maybe this will assuage the irascible and somewhat cantankerous head coach, Chris Petersen. … He didn’t have much time for us this week.”
“Yeah,” analyst Rod Gilmore added, “he declined to see us this week.”
It’s true, Petersen did not have a face-to-face meeting with ESPN’s broadcasting crew, as most coaches — in college and the NFL — do the day before a game. Jones and Gilmore, it seems, took this as a personal slight.
That, however, is nothing new for Petersen, who does not do in-person interviews with any of the broadcasting crews the day before games — whether they’re from ESPN, Fox or the Pac-12 Network. Instead, what he does do is a phone interview with the broadcasters; in this case, ESPN declined the phone interview with Petersen.
Again, day-before interviews are fairly common practice around football, and looking at this from ESPN’s perspective, it’s not unreasonable for them to be a bit miffed the lack of access. ESPN, after all, is paying a fortune for rights to broadcast Pac-12 games, and it no doubt believes it should have certain privileges that come with those broadcasting rights.
And, look, Petersen doesn’t have a reputation as the most media-friendly coach around. In fact, before Washington played Alabama in the College Football Playoff, one CFP organizer expressed frustration over UW’s pushback on media responsibilities during the week leading up to the game, lamenting that when it came to media obligations Petersen was more difficult to deal with than just about any other major-college coach. (At major bowl games, certain media obligations are contractually required for coaches and select players.)
Even so, Petersen is savvy enough to know that he shouldn’t pick a fight with ESPN. For one, it would be difficult to overstate ESPN’s widespread influence on college football. Two, it’s rare for Petersen to publicly criticize someone or something anyway, and he had nothing to gain in this situation by calling out ESPN over his frustrations with late kickoffs. (The feeling here is his comments Monday were mostly intended to express empathy with fans who are equally as frustrated as he is.)
After Saturday night’s victory, Petersen said he hoped the whole issue would go away.
“I think we just need to move on to a new topic,” he said. “Let’s pick something next week that we can really care about. I think we beat this one up enough.”
At 6-0, the Huskies have put themselves in position to make another run at a CFP berth in the second half of the season. But beyond their remaining six regular-season games, one new foe has suddenly emerged — and the Huskies might find that ESPN is no cupcake.