Pat McAfee reacts to Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders during "College GameDay." Syndication: USA TODAY

Every episode of ESPN College GameDay is supposed to be a celebration. The home school’s fans trot out signs making fun of their opponent. A celebrity guest banters and offers up their picks. Lee Corso dons a mascot head. Everyone has a good time.

College GameDay and its hosts want excitement. They want loud noises. They want compliance with the notion that college football is great and good. And most of all, they want everyone to know that it is that way because ESPN deems it so.

But when someone dares to bite that hand, College GameDay has a very special role in the sport. Your biggest cheerleader can become your biggest bully.

This past weekend, Washington State bore the brunt of GameDay’s ire for daring to complain about what its program has been through in the past two months.

While Ol’ Crimson has become a mainstay of the GameDay experience, the WSU family is rightly pissed off for the way their fellow Pac-12 members hung them out to dry over conference realignment. While they try to make sense of what’s next as a university and athletic program, the football team’s early success has only escalated their anger towards college football’s power brokers, chief among them ESPN.

After Cougars head coach Jake Dickert took a shot at Lee Corso and GameDay, former WSU QB Ryan Leaf and ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit got into a Twitter/X spat. When Leaf doubled down his criticism of GameDay, that led to Pat McAfee tearing into Washington State on Saturday on ESPN’s flagship CFB show.

“Ah, who cares! Who cares! Were you guys showing this flag when they were 1-11 in 2009? How about 2-10 in 2010? You were? That’s wild. So when they SUCKED, you guys were showing them every single week on the biggest college football show? Wow! Handle success, Ryan Leaf! Geez… I want a West Virginia flag flying up there every single time. We don’t get it, Washington State gets it, and all of a sudden, Washington State’s going, ‘Now Big Beav’s up there!’ Like, shut up! Washington State, about sick of you! Waste of time on this show…”

At first glance, it might just seem like sniping between two people in the sports media world. But when you put in the context of ESPN’s role in conference realignment, College GameDay became a bully pulpit to remind schools like Washington State they serve at ESPN’s pleasure.

Perhaps the most infamous instance of this was Herbstreit saying Pac-12 coaches “should be thanking ESPN for actually having a relationship [instead of complaining about late kickoffs] because your games are seen.” A lot of good that did for Oregon State and Washington State.

There was the time Herbstreit mocked those who thought a school like Cincinnati could never make the College Football Playoff even though he’s been one of the leading voices against G5 schools making the playoffs over P5 schools.

There’s also the time Herbstreit and Desmond Howard shamed modern college football players, saying they don’t “love football” because they might skip a bowl game to go pro and because they’re into video games and social media. Considering ESPN owns most of the bowl games, it wasn’t hard to read between the lines.

It’s not like College GameDay is yelling into the wind, either. Their hosts hold a lot of sway. Never was that more evident than when Herbstreit did a short segment about the state of the Miami Hurricanes football program that led to the school firing head coach Manny Diaz and throwing obscene amounts of money at Oregon’s Mario Cristobal to replace him. Herbstreit’s four-and-a-half-minute monologue almost single-handedly changed the direction of two of the nation’s top college football programs.

McAfee might be the newest face on the GameDay set, but he’s certainly gotten the memo. Carrot most of the time, but stick when needed. We doubt Washington State will take the hint, nor should they, but they and the rest of the college football world got a good reminder this weekend that while GameDay is the sport’s biggest cheerleader, that appreciation is not unconditional.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to