ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit made waves during Tuesday’s episode of the College Football Playoff rankings show when he suggested Michigan could “wave the white flag” vs. Ohio State to keep the Buckeyes from the Big Ten championship game.
The comment, which Herbstreit later said was unfounded and unfair toward the Wolverines, raised eyebrows across the country among those who follow the sport. It did more for Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who responded Wednesday by ripping the former Buckeyes quarterback.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Manuel said on a Wednesday interview with MGoBlue TV. “I have to pause because my words. … The anger. I was infuriated by the insinuation that Michigan would do anything other than play a football game. We’ve been playing this game since 1879. 1879. We’re the winningest program for a reason because we play whoever is in front of us. The only way we want to keep anybody from moving on is to beat them on the fields of play.”
“To insinuate that, to say something other than that is a statement by a fool. It is something that is — I can’t tell you how embarrassed I am for the Big Ten Conference to have one of their representatives who played this game to say that about any team in this conference. And to say it about college football and the student-athletes around this country who are trying to play games during a pandemic is ridiculous and sad.”
Below is Manuel’s full interview:
Michigan, currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, sits at 2-4 on the season with not much left to play for other than pride. The Wolverines’ Saturday game vs. Maryland, which could have brought the program one game closer to .500, was canceled due to the outbreak, leaving only Ohio State remaining on the schedule.
The Buckeyes, ranked No. 4 in the latest CFP rankings, sit in an their precarious situation, albeit for a different reason. If Ohio State (4-0 Big Ten) can’t play both its remaining games against Michigan State and the Wolverines, then they will be ineligible to participate in the Big Ten championship game, regardless of their record. That would also be a significant hit to their Playoff hopes, as well.
Herbstreit, then, floated the idea the Wolverines — in an attempt to avoid getting embarrassed by Ohio State — could fake COVID-19 issues in an underhanded way to keep the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten championship game. Moreover, he claimed to have spoken with coaches who suspected as much after game cancellations.
Manuel wasn’t the only one angered by Herbstreit’s words. Rece Davis, who anchored Tuesday’s episode of the rankings show, characterized it as a disgraceful move — by any team. Though Davis didn’t direct his anger at Herbstreit, it’s clear he had strong feelings about the idea:
“I’ll say this: Any team that does that, they’re not teaching you any kind of lesson,” Davis said. “They don’t stand for anything. They have no courage, they have no character, anybody that would do that just to purposely sabotage another team. Other than that I’ll say I don’t really have an opinion on that.”
Herbstreit later apologized for his comment via Twitter:
A nice gesture, though clearly not enough to placate Manuel.