Kirk Herbstreit worried for college football: "What the hell is happening to our sport?"


If you watched ESPN's College Football Playoff show Tuesday night, you probably caught some interesting remarks from Kirk Herbstreit -- remarks for which he later issued an apology. The longtime analyst and former Ohio State Buckeye suggested Michigan might use COVID-19 as an excuse to cancel its game against Ohio State next weekend and prevent its rival from going to the Big Ten Championship game.

In an interview Wednesday morning on 97.1 The Ticket, Herbstreit reiterated that he was "out of line" and "100 percent wrong" and said his comments were fueled by his frustration with the state of college football.

"I’m worried about the sport overall," he 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.'"

Speaking with former Michigan All-American Jon Jansen, Herbstreit said the fixation with the College Football Playoff is detracting from the sport at large.

"Even when you played, which wasn't all that long ago, imagine playing at Michigan and let's just say you’re 8-3 or 9-2 but you’re not in the playoff race. Part of my sensitivity to the world we live in is, that’s BS," Herbstreit said.

Look at Iowa, said Herbstreit. The Hawkeyes started this season 0-2 as questions swirled about a lawsuit levied against the university by a group of former players and about the future of head coach Kirk Ferentz. They've since won four games in a row.

"To me, that’s one of the great stories of college football (this year) 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," said Herbstreit. "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 opting out of Rose Bowls, kids are opting out of Sugar Bowls. It’s like, what in the hell is happening to our sport?"

Herbstreit said he understands players opting out this year due to concerns about COVID-19. His concern is that this trend will continue when the pandemic is over. Ultimately, he said, it's the players that lose out.

"If we move into 2021 and we have a vaccine and everything is back to normal and that becomes the new norm, players opting out -- once your team is out of the race, you’re out -- I would feel pain and sorrow for the players," he said. "Part of what makes college football great is what you learn playing it. Being selfless, learning how to go through adversity as a group, learning about perseverance."

On top of the obsession with the playoff, Herbstreit feels there's too much focus these days on getting to the NFL. It prevents players from thinking about their long-term future.

"We're now in a world (in college football) where it’s all about three and done, three years and the NFL. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs up there," he said. "The odds of making it are slim, the odds of sticking around for five years or longer are even slimmer. And yet our system is basically teaching these players, 'You gotta look out for you. These coaches don’t care about you, you gotta take care of you. Everyone else is making money and you’re not making any money.'

"If you’re going to choose to look at your experience through that lens, then I can see why these guys are like, 'Whatever, I’m in, I’m out, it doesn’t really matter.' They don’t have any roots in their program."

Herbstreit said players should come to college with a "20- or 30- or 40-year plan" in mind, but now they're only thinking five or 10 years into the future.

"I’m worried that we’re raising a generation of players that aren’t getting into that rich soil of a program and realizing the benefits of being part of a program. They just look at it like, 'Where am I gonna go? Michigan, Ohio State, whatever, I’m just looking for a springboard to the NFL.' And I think that’s really an unhealthy place to be," he said. "But you got agents, you got a lot of outside voices that are getting in these players’ ears and getting them excited about money and the NFL.

"Unfortunately at this point, I don’t know how to slow it down. But at the end of the day, it’s the player that's opting out that is going to suffer long-term. I just don’t think enough players realize the power of these programs and the doors they open for you if you go about your business right and take advantage of being at great school. It’s (no longer) about education and tradition. It’s about, bang, how quickly can I get (to the NFL)? And that’s a slippery slope for the sport."

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