Jan 1, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; Kirk Herbstreit on the ESPN Championship Drive set prior to the 2019 Rose Bowl between the Washington Huskies and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirk Herbstreit fired people up in all corners of the Internet on Tuesday when he made the claim Michigan is looking to use COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid Ohio State and keep its arch-rival out of the Big Ten title game and, ultimately, the College Football Playoff.
Herbstreit, a former Buckeye quarterback, has since apologized for this remarks, calling them “out of line” and in reiterating that point during an interview with 97.1 The Ticket, a sports radio station in Detroit, he added further (I guess you’d say) clarification to why he made the statement.
“I’m worried about the sport overall,” Herbstreit said. “I’m worried about the focus strictly on the playoff, that if you’re not one of the playoff teams, ‘Why does it even matter, who cares? Let’s just opt out, let’s get ready for the NFL.”
There is a larger point that I’m going to make in just a second, but I want to address this opening part of Herbstreit’s argument first. The idea that people do not care if they’re not in the College Football Playoff is short sighted at best and a lazy opinion from one of the more respected national college football prognosticators at worst.
For instance, Iowa State came in at No. 9 in the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings on Tuesday, which led some of Herbstreit’s colleagues on ESPN to make comments that lend to the belief they do not think the Cyclones deserve such a spot in the poll.
Regardless of the on-field portion of this discussion, if Herbstreit’s frustration with college football is people not caring about things besides the CFP, wouldn’t this have been a perfect opportunity to highlight a story and program that most certainly does care about where they stand in the playoff discussion, absolutely cares about the possibility of playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game and should be considered one of college football’s best stories of 2020?
During the interview on Wednesday, Herbstreit did note the Iowa Hawkeyes, who started the season 0-2 following a tumultuous offseason and have since gone on to win four-straight games.
“To me, that’s one of the great stories of college football and we live in this era of, ‘Does it have anything to do with the playoff? Nope, OK, who cares.’ And if that’s the world we’re going to live in in college football, that’s like March Madness,” he said. “If you’re in March Madness, fill out the bracket and we’re gonna get excited. But do you care about the NIT? no, unless it’s maybe your school.
“That’s what college football’s turning into with this playoff. If you’re in the playoff, it’s March Madness, and if you’re not in the playoff — even if you’re 9-2 — good riddance. Kids are option out of Rose Bowls, kids are opting out of Sugar Bowls. It’s like, what in the hell is happening to our sport?”
Now, I will give Herbstreit his props for noting the season at Iowa. Even as a writer for Cyclone Fanatic, I can admit what the Hawkeyes have done this season is impressive when you consider everything that went on in Iowa City over the summer.
The larger point I want to make here though is that if Herbstreit has these feelings and sees stories that are worth highlighting, things he believes national college football fans as a whole should take note of, then why doesn’t he, and his employer, do more to highlight them? Maybe, oh, I don’t know, during an hour-long program dedicated to talking about the country’s top college football teams.
See, this is where my problem with Herbstreit’s takes on the CFP and it apparently making people care less lies. The reason it might seem that way to someone on a national scale is because the sport’s preeminent media outlet spends a majority of its college football airtime exclusively talking about the College Football Playoff and the four, five or six teams with a chance to actually play in it.
A grand total of 11 different programs have played in the College Football Playoff since its first season in 2015. Alabama and Clemson lead those 11 schools with five appearances apiece (and will likely make their sixth this year) while Oklahoma and Ohio State have each been selected four times. Notre Dame is currently slated to appear for the second time after coming in at No. 2 in the rankings last night.
It is hard for me to understand how someone can sit and criticize anyone — or a sport as a whole — for not caring about something besides the CFP when the network they work for spends the majority of their time talking only about those programs and the CFP.
Each week, Herbstreit and ESPN have a perfect opportunity, not only the CFP rankings show, but on College Gameday and plenty of other programs throughout the week, to showcase all of college football’s best stories, programs on the rise and places that might be flying under the radar in the sport’s current format, because the reality is people do care about more than the College Football Playoff.
People do care about Coastal Carolina. People do care about Indiana. People do care about Iowa State and Iowa, as hard as that might be for some national talking heads to believe.
The young men on those teams care a helluva lot about the opportunity to play for conference championships or in Rose Bowls, Sugar Bowls or Fiesta Bowls.
Highlighting how much those people care and how much these things mean to teams across the country (rather than laughing at them or making snide comments denigrating them) would likely go a long ways towards helping find a solution to Herbstreit’s problem, but he is asking the wrong question if that’s the problem he wants to solve.
It is not, ‘What the hell has happened to college football?’ It is, ‘What the hell has happened to our coverage of college football?’