Washington was none too pleased about a sarcastic tweet from ESPN announcer Mark Jones following the Huskies’ loss to Auburn.
Nor was the Pac-12.
Nor, it seems, was Jones’ employer.
“Childish behavior that is unacceptable,” an ESPN executive wrote to UW athletic director Jen Cohen in an email obtained by the Hotline via a public records request.
Nick Dawson, ESPN’s vice president for programming and acquisitions, also told Cohen that “we will also ensure that Mark is not assigned to any further Washington games.”
Dawson did not specify how long the ban would be in place.
The day after Washington’s 21-16 loss to Auburn — a high-stakes game in the heart of SEC country (Atlanta) — Jones, who was not part of the broadcast crew, took to Twitter:
Jones was heavily criticized for lack of professionalism while calling a UW game last season.
That broadcast featured ESPN sideline reporter Quint Kessenich placing cupcakes on the sideline to mock the Huskies’ soft schedule — it included Montana — and Jones, the play-by-play announcer, describing coach Chris Petersen as “somewhat cantankerous.”
(Petersen, in keeping with his policy, had declined to meet with the ESPN crew before the game.)
Dawson’s email to Cohen was sent Sept. 3, the day after Jones’ tweet. He copied Pac-12 deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich and two senior ESPN officials, Lee Fitting and Pete Derzis.
“Frustrating and disappointing to us on so many levels,” Dawson wrote.
He noted the “positive interactions” the ABC broadcast crew had with Washington’s staff during the weekend of the Auburn game:
“A great example of how the partnership can/should work on both sides.”
The significance of that line should not be overlooked.
Jones’ tweet was the fourth instance in the past 11 months of ESPN broadcasters taking public jabs at Washington or the Pac-12, which has a 12-year, $3 billion partnership with ESPN and Fox.
The barbs were enough that Pac-12 officials and head coaches had open discussions with ESPN executives and on-air talent during the conference’s spring meetings.
The goal: Improving ESPN’s promotion of the Pac-12 and identifying ways the conference could support that endeavor.
(As the Hotline noted last week, the relationship is vital to the conference over the long haul.)
The good vibes continued through the summer, when athletic communication strategists from several schools joined Stanford coach David Shaw in Bristol to meet with ESPN executives, producers and talent.
Then, less than 24 hours after the first game of the season, Jones fired off his tweet.
Neither ESPN or the Pac-12 would comment on the matter at the time, other than to say it was being addressed.
Once Washington learned of the tweet, Cohen sent an email to Zaninovich saying, “we are all at a loss for how to work with mark.”
Zaninovich responded to Cohen that “at a loss” was “the right phrase” and took the matter to Dawson, describing the behavior as “bizarre” in his email.
In his response to Cohen and Zaninovich, Dawson noted that Fitting, the vice president for college sports, was handling the situation “directly” with Jones.
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