A day after Washington lost to Auburn in Week 1, ESPN announcer Mark Jones sent a tweet that would normally look innocuous but made a lot of Huskies fans and Pac-12 people mad:
Washington Huskies took one one on the chin. Where’s Montana ?— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) September 2, 2018
Montana was on Washington’s maligned non-conference schedule in 2017, and the Huskies won easily. They scheduled a top-10 Auburn in 2018 and ... did not win easily.
The backlash to Jones’ tweet was swift, both from media members ...
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott cannot let this pass without 1) an explanation 2) an apology and 3) Jones being prohibited from calling UW games https://t.co/jZj1WAnNVl— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) September 3, 2018
... and fans, like this one:
@ESPN this is a perfect example of how you have debased yourselves to cheap shots, biased reporting, & tittilating sound bytes to trigger reactions. Many of us have lost respect for you and will switch our viewing to NBC, Fox, Root, or ANY other network. #actlikeaprofessional— Mmmmm, K (@pdxdawgfan) September 3, 2018
One tweeter appeared to suggest Jones was making fun of a hit to the head of Washington quarterback Jake Browning in the Auburn game, which officials didn’t call.
Forget about Jones’ unprofessionalism and disdain for UW. We get it; he has every right to take pot shots, regardless of how lame. But let’s distill this down to what it is: he’s making light of a vicious helmet to helmet hit on a 20 yr old kid.— Mike Drayer (@drdrayer) September 3, 2018
It’s not clear how much thought went into “took one on the chin” as Jones’ metaphor. He followed up a while later with some praise for the Huskies and their city.
Hey don’t get me wrong...I still think Washington will have a great season..losing to Auburn in their backyard is a lot better than what a team like Miami did to their CFP chances. All love Seattle. S/o to the bruthas at Greenlake Park ✊— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) September 3, 2018
By Labor Day evening, the Pac-12 had weighed in with its displeasure and said Jones wouldn’t be calling any Washington games in 2018:
Both the Pac-12 office and UW were aware of Jones’ tweet Sunday. An athletic department spokesman told The Seattle Times that Washington has been assured that Jones will not be broadcasting any of the Huskies’ games this season (and likely not any anytime soon).
“We are aware of the inappropriate comments in this tweet and have addressed it with ESPN,” the Pac-12 wrote in a statement.
And a week after that, an email surfaced in which an ESPN executive told Washington’s athletic director Jones’ tweet was “childish behavior that is unacceptable.”
There’s a lot of recent bad blood between Washington and ESPN.
In 2017, Huskies coach Chris Petersen voiced frustration at his team repeatedly being forced into late-night-Eastern kickoffs by the network, a major Pac-12 broadcasting partner.
“We want to play at 1:00 [Pacific time],” Petersen said before a late game against Cal. “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. 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 the next edition of College GameDay, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit escalated the matter from Washington being irked at scheduling to a full-blown thing:
Herbstreit called himself an “advocate” for the Pac-12. He described the network as the benevolent spreader of Pac-12 football gospel that would otherwise go unheard.
“You should be thanking ESPN for actually having a relationship, thanks to [commissioner] Larry Scott, with the Pac-12, because now your games are seen,” Herbstreit said.
In addition to painting the Pac-12 as receiving some kind of charity from ESPN, Herbstreit’s comments sounded like a jab at the difficult-to-find, oft-unwatched Pac-12 Network.
That night, ESPN had the Huskies’ game against Cal. Sideline reporter Quint Kessenich made fun of UW’s strength of schedule, using three cupcakes to represent opponents 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
Kessenich often uses pieces of food as metaphors on broadcasts. It’s a thing he does! But Herbstreit’s earlier response to Petersen didn’t sit well with people who care about UW, and then ESPN put up this graphic, which didn’t sit well with them either:
On the same broadcast, analyst Rod Gilmore used a common political attack line on Petersen, saying he was “entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Jones, doing play-by-play that night, complained about Petersen’s (standard) practice of not giving the network a sit-down interview before the game. Jones called Petersen “the irascible and somewhat cantankerous head coach.” He and Gilmore talked about the Huskies making the 2016 Playoff despite similar time slots and a soft schedule.
Washington fans despised the entire broadcast and ESPN’s whole day of coverage.
Things quieted down for the most part after that, though Washington did offer this moment:
VITA VEA WITH A ESPN CUPCAKE SIGN IN THE LOCKER ROOM pic.twitter.com/QBE57XETF7— spencer (@kleincreativity) November 19, 2017
Jones, with his Montana tweet, brought this story back to life.
The Huskies will continue to play games on the network, in 2018 and beyond.
ESPN has a bunch of the Pac-12 schedule, almost every bowl game, and the entire Playoff. It’s unknown whether the beef between the network and school (or the Pac-12, for that matter) will ever reach a permanent simmer.