ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit caused a firestorm across social media after a few controversial comments he made on ESPN’s “College GameDay”, questioning whether today’s college athletes have the passion and love for the game. Whether Herbstreit meant it literally or as just a comment he didn’t fully think through before exclaiming it on national television at the height of college football, the fire is raging. Herbstreit’s comments came about when being asked if he thought expanding the College Football Playoffs would help with the player opt-outs from their respective bowl games.
“Isn’t that what we do as football players, we compete? I don’t know if changing it, expanding it is going to change anything, I really don’t,” Herbstreit proclaimed. “I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”
Former player and fellow analyst Desmond Howard agreed on Herbstreit’s comments, adding fuel to the fire by stating, “their whole mentality right now is about the championship, the playoff. We’ve got to get into the CFP and because of that they don’t value the bowl games.”
Matt Corral would like a word.
You can go live on national tv and say however and whatever you feel because ESPN pays you to be entertaining and insightful to your audience, cause a little controversy from time-to-time, and everybody moves on. Right? How about the unnerving feeling of saying kids don’t love football enough, then one of the league’s most talented QBs decides to play his final game at Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl and ends up being carted off the field in the first quarter to not return. Luckily, days later, we know Corral’s injury is just an ankle sprain and isn’t likely to hurt his draft stock. But unfortunately, this isn’t the same outcome for every athlete.
On a day when Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) criticized players for opting out of bowl games, the sight of Ole Miss QB Matt Corral on crutches showed the world why players skip them.@ByPatForde explains: https://t.co/7pXLwBDLOh pic.twitter.com/qApwpkhRwR— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 3, 2022
It’s easy to point the finger at these “selfish” athletes for choosing not to play. It’s easy to assume it’s because they don’t “care enough”. The situation isn’t ideal but these are life decisions for the athletes, not for the fanbases, and most importantly, not for the network’s bank account.
The reactions amongst the analysts weren’t all harsh blows.
If a draftable player wants to opt out of a non playoff bowl game, I understand.— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) January 2, 2022
If a draftable player wants to play to play in a non playoff game, I love it.
Can it be this simple or am I doing this wrong?
The REAL problem with the CFB system isn’t the lack of passion.
If the ‘love of the game’ was the problem, these kids wouldn’t have spent their entire lives trying to get their shot at the league in the first place. Anyone who’s experienced it will tell you nothing about it is easy. The criticism SHOULD lie on the shoulders of those who don’t care about these kids’ lives after/without football, they just want the most well-known, the future draft picks and the kid who’s drawing attention to play in this network produced bowl game so people will watch it. Because if people don’t, it’s not hurting the kids (somewhat), it’s hurting the network. It could open another can of worms to insinuate that these kids no longer have to risk their well-being for a dollar, because thanks to the NIL, a lot of them have a few in their pockets already.
Post-season college football rakes in a good $350-400 million annually for ESPN. And at this point in the surge of Covid, that number is bouncing around the boards at ESPN. The last thing they want to happen on top of cancellations, is athletes opting-out and none of us caring to watch. Being surprised that the network who produces all but one bowl game would allow their analysts to shift the narrative that you’re less of an athlete if you don’t play in this oddly-sponsored, less-hyped, and less popular bowl game shouldn’t surprise us. The culture of college football is changing, it has been for a while. It wasn’t the athletes that decided the playoffs was the only storyline.
If the bowl game mattered, they’d play.
WIth the BCS system, you still had that bowl game to land your team at a better ranking to end out the season. You may not make it to the National Championship, but your bowl game still had some kind of meaning to it. The playoff system, regardless of whether you argue it to expand or not, doesn’t give any team the mic to matter unless you’re in one of those final 4 spots. The focus is ‘playoffs or die’, so being mad at a bunch of college kids because they don’t see the need in playing this bowl game you decided wasn’t important, isn’t the route to take. There’s a bigger issue here than opt-outs.
Herbstreit later took to Twitter to explain and clarify his comments.
Just wanted to clarify some of my comments from earlier today. Of course some players love the game the same today as ever. But some don’t. I’ll always love the players of this game and sorry if people thought I generalized or lumped them all into one category. pic.twitter.com/PS9Pu5rcoo— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) January 1, 2022
Coming from someone who played in a different era of college football and someone who is one of the best in the business in my opinion, we can take this whole episode and take a look at the bigger picture. It’s time to look beyond trying to justify how the players feel and start figuring out why they feel that way.