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Kirk Herbstreit falsely accuses Michigan of desire to back out of OSU game, quickly apologizes

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This wasn’t Herbstreit’s finest hour.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest voices in college football made unfounded claims about the University of Michigan football program on Tuesday night. Appearing on ESPN, analyst Kirk Herbstreit talked about the fact that if Ohio State has even one of their last two games cancelled, they won’t meet the game threshold required to appear in the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan is their last opponent of the regular season.

Michigan has held team meetings in a virtual capacity the past two days out of an abundance of caution due to an unknown number of cases on the team. Michigan has yet to have a game cancelled, and they’ve done fairly well limiting the spread of the coronavirus, but now there’s room for doubt about whether they’ll be playing this Saturday against Maryland. Ohio State, on the other hand, has had two games cancelled, and head coach Ryan Day has tested COVID-19 positive. When it comes to a pandemic and those involved, it’s unfortunate for any team to have positive cases, it’s sad when games have to get cancelled. Herbstreit, however, didn’t grasp the reality of what is COVID-19, instead he opted to say Michigan will “wave the white flag”, not play Ohio State, and claim it was for health and safety because they don’t want to get beat.

“I think a lot of people want to see where Ohio State would be (in the playoff rankings). The concern on Friday and Saturday was Ohio State… are they’re gonna have to shut down their operation? Are they going to potentially miss the Michigan State game? Of course they missed the Illinois game? Are they going to have enough to be able to play against Michigan? And are they going to miss the Big Ten Championship? And how is the committee gonna evaluate them? The fact that they’ve played four games, and they’re still sitting there in the top four... Now it comes down to (playing) Michigan State on Saturday. I still think Michigan waves the white flag and potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week,” Herbstreit said. “And then they’ll potentially get a game on the 19th. They could be sitting there with six games. And Michigan, is that fair? Michigan could opt out basically of that game and keep Ohio State out of six games to qualify for the Big Ten championship. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

After receiving a sizable amount of blowback from colleagues and fans, Herbstreit quickly backtracked from his comments.

“I made some comments about Michigan, about the potential of them waving a white flag and intentionally trying to avoid playing Ohio State by just saying, ‘Hey, we have too many cases, and we’re gonna opt-out.’ I had no business at all saying that. I have no evidence of that. (And it) is completely unfair to the University of Michigan, to Jim Harbaugh to his players and coaches. And I just want to apologize,” Herbstreit said.

Herbstreit is an analyst that has pull and influence, and although he came out with an apology, the damage was already done. It was an irresponsible train of thought from a usually rational person.

“I have no evidence at all that Michigan right now... they’re trying to do the best they can of trying to cover and contain a virus from spreading on that roster. I wish them all the best hope they can play Saturday against Maryland and hope they can play against Ohio State. So again, I misspoke, I’m apologizing,” Herbstreit said. “I think I was more just trying to say this is happening around the country. We’re seeing that. But it was um, completely uncalled for to say that Michigan was potentially doing that. I have absolutely no evidence of that. So to Michigan to their fans, especially to Jim Harbaugh, and to those players, hope everybody’s okay regarding the COVID. And hope again, I hope they’re able to play and get the last two games in and wish them all the best. I’ve got a 25-year track record of not being a guy that pokes at Michigan even though I’m an Ohio State guy, and I take a lot of pride in being fair and I was not fair tonight, and I apologize.”

Herbstreit realizes he wasn’t fair, he apologized, but it’s the type of thing that still deserves a ‘what were you thinking?’ directed his way. Making claims like he did without evidence reads as click-bait to the max and the consumption has already done damage. Some people will continue to take his words to heart even though he came out with an apology.

Herbstreit’s logic would imply that Ohio State cancelled their game against Illinois because they were scared to play the Fighting Illini and former Michigan QB Brandon Peters. It just doesn’t make sense. Say what you want about the Michigan program and the disappointing season they’re having, say what you want about Jim Harbaugh, but they’re not going to duck an opponent because they think they’re going to lose. Players are called players for a reason, they want to play. Coaches, win or lose, porous results or good outputs, they devote too many hours of their life to waive a white flag. They want to show up and see what happens. As Herbstreit said, he has a track record of being someone who doesn’t poke at Michigan, that’s true. Which also makes his comments all the more surprising. He questioned Michigan’s integrity, manhood, and livelihood. And that isn’t cool.