ANN ARBOR, Mich. – University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel slammed analyst Kirk Herbstreit for suggesting the Michigan football team shut down over fear of losing to Ohio State, rather than a legitimate COVID-19 outbreak.
On Tuesday night during ESPN’s broadcast of the new College Football Playoff rankings, Herbstreit asked it if was fair for Michigan to “wave the white flag” and cost Ohio State a chance to go to the Big Ten Championship Game.
“I still think Michigan waves the white flag, and potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week,” Herbstreit said. “Michigan could opt out, basically, of that game, and keep Ohio State out of six games to qualify for the Big Ten Championship.”
The Big Ten’s rules for the shortened 2020 season require a team to play at least six of their eight regular season games to be eligible for the conference title game. Ohio State has already had two games canceled this season, so presumably, missing the Michigan game would knock the Buckeyes from contention.
But the problem, obviously, is that Herbstreit is ignoring the fact that Michigan’s players could be infected with a virus that has killed more than 9,000 people in the state. His first response to Michigan shutting down practice was to whine about how it could affect his alma mater.
Not to mention, dozens of other programs -- including Ohio State, just three days prior to these comments! -- have been forced to miss games due to COVID-19. Herbstreit didn’t bother to question the legitimacy of those other outbreaks.
Yes, Michigan is having a terrible season on the field. Jim Harbaugh’s team is 2-4 and coming off a loss to previously winless Penn State. It’s been extremely ugly, and there’s absolutely no chance Michigan will beat Ohio State if that game is played.
Everyone knows that, and fans have been all over social media saying they wish the season would just end, or that Michigan should cancel the game to hurt Ohio State. But those are just frustrated fans.
Herbstreit is perhaps the most well-known college football analyst on TV, and his comments were seen by millions of viewers on the live show and social media. It paints a completely unfair picture that the Michigan football program is soft enough to try to get out of a game, or so cowardly that it can’t take another loss.
No matter what anyone thinks of Harbaugh, running away from adversity and criticism has never been his style. The health experts advising the Michigan football program would be risking their careers by fabricating a COVID-19 outbreak just to avoid a loss on the football field.
Michigan gets blown out by Ohio State every single year. Why would it go through so much trouble to avoid The Game in 2020?
Even though Herbstreit posted an apology video, Manuel wasn’t about to let those comments go unopposed. He refuted the notion that Michigan would shy away from a game, calling it “ridiculous.”
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Manuel said. “I have to pause because of my words. I was angered, 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.”
At the time of Herbstreit’s comments, Michigan had paused team activities and held them virtually on Monday and Tuesday. School officials announced Wednesday that this weekend’s game against Maryland will not be played.