West Coast sports fans often complain about East Coast bias. Sports media and the majority of sports fans being based east of the Pac-12 and Mountain West mean those conferences receive less attention and often end up with unsavory kickoff times, limiting exposure for quality athletes.
“We want to play at 1:00 [PT]. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the East Coast that late, and we all know it.” Washington head coach Chris Petersen said before the Huskies’ 38-7 win over Cal. “It is painful for our team. It’s painful for our administration. And we know certainly the most important part is (it’s painful) for our fans.”
On College GameDay, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit countered by arguing UW should be grateful to be on TV at all, more or less:
Many hours later, during UW’s beatdown of Cal, ESPN’s Quint Kessenich used a trio of cupcakes to illustrate the Huskies’ non-conference schedule of Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno State.
In case you wanted to see the cupcake schedule thing for yourself: pic.twitter.com/U5RXEqwRDi— Kevin Shockey (@KevinShockey) October 8, 2017
That is a light schedule, yeah. And Kessenich uses food props every week to illustrate all sorts of topics ...
Quint Kessenich says the loser of the UCLA-Stanford game might be toast pic.twitter.com/MqwZPKiKUX— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 24, 2017
... but it’s still easy to see how Washington fans could’ve been pushed over the edge by that object lesson, considering it came on the same day and via the same network as that Herbstreit lecture and during the same broadcast as this:
“[Petersen’s] entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," analyst Rod Gilmore said on air. "And his facts were wrong on this.”
Gilmore and Mark Jones then noted the fact that despite the time slots and a weak schedule last season, the Huskies made the College Football Playoff.
Jones also called Petersen "the irascible and somewhat cantankerous head coach," complaining about Petersen's lack of a sit-down with the broadcast team, even though that is standard practice for Petersen, no matter the network.
By the end, Washington fans were furious with the whole Saturday:
Lol they thought coach pete declined em now, just wait til he listen to this game they never gone see him again lol— Kevin King (@King_kevvoo) October 8, 2017
"Irascible and cantankerous" Chris Petersen. ESPN continues to pile on tonight.— Dick Fain (@dickfain) October 8, 2017
ESPN really not pulling any punches with their narratives today when it comes to Washington. Props for non conference schedule. pic.twitter.com/VRo7Szyuw4— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) October 8, 2017
BREAKING: ESPN announces it hates grunge music, clam chowder, the Space Needle, mountain ranges, salt water, and is happy the Sonics left.— Steve Sandmeyer (@SteveSandmeyer) October 8, 2017
So what's going on here?
1. Pac-12 coaches have never liked the conference's especially weird scheduling demands.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez a couple of years ago, for example:
"Don't go on your soapbox and talk about student-athlete welfare and then have these kids get back at 5 or 6 in the morning. If we're in it for that part of it, there's got to be a better way. At some point the conference has to have the ability to step in and say 'Hey, give this team one afternoon road game. Maybe all the rest are at night, but give them one break so they can get home at a reasonable hour.' It's silly, it really is."
2. Herbstreit is right that the Pac-12 benefits greatly from its ESPN partnership ...
But so does every conference that gets paid millions of dollars to put its stuff on national broadcasts. As a whole, Pac-12 public interest isn't exactly through the roof, but that's the case for every conference besides the Big Ten and SEC, with exceptions for individual teams.
3. ... but Herbstreit was almost literally the last person who should've made the argument, and he didn't need to try and scold anybody:
"You should be thanking ESPN" was only a small part of his comment, but it's the one that'll resonate, giving the impression that Herbstreit thinks of his company as the sport's benevolent overseer, deigning to bestow attention on minimally worthy universities.
4. Why do coaches care about any of this, anyway?
Regarding the "exposure" Petersen mentioned, that's not really about branding or ratings or merch sales. Coaches care about winning, which depends on recruiting, and the Pacific Northwest alone does not produce enough talent to field a national champion. Oregon was able to become a truly national brand, but Washington's not quite back to that level just yet, so Petersen's fighting for recognition at a program that's been playing like an elite for almost two full seasons now.
He also mentioned UW's established schedule of morning practices, which makes it difficult to continually prepare for late-night games.
5. Is ESPN trying to poison the narrative ahead of time and keep Washington out of the Playoff?
That's a little tinfoil, in my opinion.
It's true that ESPN has a massive investment in the Playoff. It's also true that West Coast audiences can be tricky to land. If you're already worked up, you could follow the logic that the company is trying to spoil UW's chances ahead of time.
But Alabama-Washington had 24 percent more viewers in last year's Playoff than Clemson-Oklahoma the year prior, and we're not hearing about ESPN's anti-Clemson or anti-Oklahoma bias.
And if the Playoff committee was compromised enough to think only of TV ratings, wouldn't the committee have put Penn State in over Washington last year anyway?
6. ESPN should lay off the Huskies, though.
It's true that UW has a light non-con schedule, but so do fellow top-10 teams Penn State, Wisconsin, and TCU and — depending on how some things shake out — maybe Alabama and Washington State as well.
One coach complained about late kickoffs. He's allowed to do that. Letting this weird thing escalate only risks making West Coast viewers further suspicious of the Bristol, Conn. media company and its influence over a sport that's long been subject to the whims of parties who don't actually suit up to play.