Kirk Herbstreit isn’t a fan of college football players opting out of bowl games. And he made this point known on New Year’s Day as ESPN previewed Saturday’s action.
Specifically, the situation at Ohio State, his old team, prompted Kirk Herbstreit to talk about the opt-out big picture. The Buckeyes were without 19 players when they met Utah. Of the 19, four decided not to play to prepare for the NFL draft. The others were injured and listed as unavailable.
Herbstreit, one of the hosts of ESPN’s College GameDay, pondered what could fix the problem that’s sweeping across college football. Players don’t want to risk an injury to compete in a game they find meaningless, even when the bowl is as prestigious as the Rose.
“Isn’t that what we do as football players, we compete?” Kirk Herbstreit said. “I don’t know if changing it, expanding (the playoffs) is going to change anything, I really don’t. I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”
Fellow GameDay panelist Desmond Howard, who won the Heisman at Michigan in 1991, agreed with Herbstreit. He said today’s players have a “sense of entitlement” if they don’t get to the game “that matters.”
“Their whole mentality right now is about the championship, the playoff,” Howard said. “We’ve got to get into the CFP and because of that they don’t value the bowl games. When we were coming up, Herbstreit and myself, to go to a bowl game was a huge reward for a fantastic season. That’s what it meant.”
As he began to trend on Twitter, Kirk Herbstreit later tried to clarify his comments.
“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 trend of players skipping bowl games is a recent one. Former Stanford star Christian McCaffrey started it all when he decided not to play in the Sun Bowl in 2016.
And Kirk Herbstreit didn’t like McCaffrey’s decision back then. So he’s consistent. He tweeted: “While I get players skipping their bowl game-what happened to LOVING the GAME & wanting to compete 1 more time w/ your boys-Disturbing trend.”
While I get players skipping their bowl game-what happened to LOVING the GAME & wanting to compete 1 more time w/ your boys-Disturbing trend— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) December 19, 2016
But two of Saturday’s biggest games also saw two major injuries. Utah quarterback Cameron Rising left the Rose Bowl with a head injury. Then in the Sugar, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral suffered a leg injury after he was sacked by a Baylor defensive lineman. Corral is a potential first-round pick. But he decided to play one final game with his teammates because the Sugar Bowl was so important to everyone.
During a press conference earlier this month, Corral talked about why he was playing in the Sugar Bowl.
“I wouldn’t be in this position without them,” he said about his teammates. “I won’t just leave. (And) I know what’s on the other side. But I’m gonna give these guys everything I got.”
Corral returned to the sideline in street clothes. ESPN cameras found him for a closeup. Corral still was emotional. And his eyes were red from crying. Corral represented everything Kirk Herbstreit said was lacking in today’s game.