ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit is the top college football analyst in the country and, typically, does a good job. But he was way off the mark in comments made on Saturday, just ahead of several marquee bowl games, including the Rose Bowl.
Only four teams — Alabama, Cincinnati, Michigan and Georgia — qualified for the college football playoffs. Other decent to good teams played in various bowl games. Those teams included many players expected to be taken in this spring’s NFL Draft, and many of those players decided to not play in the bowl games as a precaution. They wanted to avoid any chance of a serious injury that could, potentially, cost them millions of dollars in the NFL.
But Herbstreit questioned the players who decided not to play.
On ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, he said, “I just don’t understand — if you don’t make it to the playoff, how is it meaningless to play football and compete? Isn’t that what we do, as football players, we compete? I don’t know if expanding (the playoff) is going to change anything. I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”
It’s that last sentence — “I think this era of player just doesn’t love football” — that comes off as an old-guy, back-in-my-day, get-off-my-lawn take that was not only lazy, but completely lacking in self-awareness. Herbstreit makes millions of dollars talking about football games for a network that makes millions upon millions for broadcasting virtually every bowl game. Yet he questions the hearts and desires of amateur players who choose to do what they can to protect themselves and their futures.
His broadcast partner, Desmond Howard, chimed in, essentially echoing Herbstreit’s comments and saying “kids” these days “have a sense of entitlement.”
Several hours after his comments, Herbstreit tweeted, “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.”
The apology, if you want to call it that, was just as bad as his initial comments.
Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay tweeted, “espn helped create the playoff that diminished its own bowls and simultaneously turns the nfl combine and draft into a critical career-making spectacle – not only is this a retrograde take, its an all time hot dog suit ‘we’re all trying to find who did this’ take”
The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch tweeted, “I think ESPN should broadcast the CFP national championship for the love of the game. Go commercial free. Accept no ad dollars. No promoting Disney products. No executive takes a paycheck that week. On-air talent does it gratis. Do this for the love of the game.”
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.