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WATCH: Kirk Herbstreit calls out Chris Petersen

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The ESPN talking head claims that UW ought to “be thanking” the world leader

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State
Kirk Herbstreit waded into controversy with an ill-advised rank against Chris Petersen on Saturday morning.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

He said it. Not at a tailgate. Not on an ESPN podcast. Not on one of the dozens of radio interviews he does on local and satellite radio every week.

He said it on television. He said it on ESPN’s College Gameday in front of millions of viewers.

The full quote goes something like this (courtesy of Deadspin.com):

That’s right Husky fans, Kirk Herbstreit thinks that UW, Chris Petersen and you ought to be kneeling down and praising the virtues of a benevolent ESPN for allowing all of us the right to participate in the great past time of NCAA football.

For full context, Herbstreit was responding specifically to an answer to a media question raised last Monday at Chris Petersen’s weekly press conference. The full response from Chris Petersen to the question of how he feels about the late start times goes like this:

“I just want to say something to our fans: We apologize for these late games,” Petersen said. “And I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration. We want to play at 1 o’clock. 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.

“We haven’t had a kickoff before 5 o’clock this season. And so it’s painful for our team, it’s painful for our administration and we know certainly the most important part is for our fans.”

To be perfectly fair, Kirk Herbstreit has for most of his broadcasting career been an even-keeled commentator and a promoter of the quality of football in the PAC 12.

But this monologue is obviously a slap in the face to football fans on the west coast and to any interested party who thinks that ESPN’s hegemony is not necessarily in the best interests of college athletics. The arrogance in his words are shocking and the comfort in which he delivers them do little to dissuade the world of the notion that ESPN-driven “east coast bias” is a real factor in the administration of college football’s post-season promotions and events.

This was completely unnecessary on Herbstreit’s part. If you watch the interview and listened to Chris Petersen’s response to the question that prompted this mini-drama, it is obvious that the context of the answer to the question was from the point of view of the fans who Petersen wants to see get to Husky Stadium. In fact, the impact of late start times on attendance at Husky Stadium is an issue that Petersen has been talking about for the last few seasons. It is a problem that the PAC 12 is struggling with as it affects just about every school across the conference.

Even if protecting the home field advantage for UW wasn’t the motivation behind Petersen’s comments, there are other factors that Herbstreit conveniently failed to address. The Huskies have not kicked off a single game before 8pm ET so far this season. UW is the #6 team in the nation but has at different times this season been jumped in the polls by other teams (Oklahoma State in week 4, Georgia in week 6) who have benefitted from more favorable time slots for their games. This despite the fact that UW continues to demonstrate a top 10 offense AND defense on the field.

Whether or not the jumps in rankings by other teams are valid is beside the point. The fact that it happened deserves to be addressed as a contextual fact that might partially explain Petersen’s position. That these facts are not addressed is unprofessional and clearly media bias.

Frankly, I’d expect someone who is paid millions of dollars to be an “expert” to understand that context and to be able to explain it to the average fan who otherwise wouldn’t invest an ounce of time or attention to the issue. That Herbstreit chose to go sensationalistic with his off-base rant paints him as just another narcissistic talking head. He joins a club of self-absorbed public personalities that include some of my personal favorites: Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Donald Trump.

But Herbstreit failed in this regard and has opened up can of worms that must now be addressed. Specifically, I’d expect clarification from Herbstreit and the world leader on the following questions:

  1. What, exactly, should UW and all of ESPN’s other NCAA business partners “be thankful” for?
  2. How does ESPN think that those same business partners should respond to such condescending remarks?
  3. How should ESPN’s NCAA business partners adequately demonstrate their thankfulness?
  4. Should fans expect only criticism from Herbstreit against programs located in footprints whose media rights are NOT owned by ESPN (as is the case with the PAC 12 which owns their own broadcasting network).

I’m particularly interested in the last question. Should they all pay out of pocket to fund the Herbstreit private jet / Monaco vacation fund? Should the programs instruct their fans to all take a knee at halftime of their games in honor of ESPN’s benevolence? Should we all offer our first-born sons to the network so that they can be screened for allocation to an athletic program of Herbstreit’s choosing?

Obviously, I’m more than a little irritated by Herbstreit’s condescension. So should you be.