Herbstreit Toes The Line To Cover For The NCAA Fixing The Outcome

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Kirk Herbstreit lost his mind for a minute, but only because his head is inside a college football world that’s spinning completely out of control. He spruced up ESPN’s weekly College Football Playoff rankings show Tuesday by whining on behalf of his former team, Ohio State.

“I still think Michigan waves the white flag, potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week,’’ said Herbstreit, the ABC/ESPN analyst. “Is that fair?. . . Michigan could opt out, basically, and keep Ohio State out of (playing) six games to qualify for the Big Ten championship. That doesn’t make sense to me.’’

To clarify: By “opt out,’’ Herbstreit implies that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will fake COVID-test results, falsely claim too many players have the virus to play Ohio State and cancel their game. That way, UM’s rival, Ohio State, wouldn’t have played enough games to be able to play in the conference championship game.

Don’t worry, Kirk. Ohio State will not be screwed out of anything. If anything, your Buckeyes will do the screwing-over. I’ll get back to that.

This is the college football world in a pandemic. It has become a slam dance of a season. All rules are being invented as we go, which basically means there are no rules. But the highest-paid leaders in our education system — hah! — are doing some shady things and mixing them with this weird year to get what they want. It’s the oldest story: The rich and powerful rig the system to get what they want and then claim that it is their right to do so.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has a very real shot of the ultimate payday, getting two teams into the four-team College Football Playoff to determine the national champion.

This week, they rigged their regular season to help that happen.

In July, it appeared that conferences are going to allow their teams to play only conference games. The outcry was that Notre Dame, which isn’t in a conference, would be left out. Here’s what I tweeted at the time:

“Anyone who thinks Notre Dame might get screwed out of a football season because it’s not in a conference, or because of any other reason, has not been paying attention for the past 100 years.’’

Soon after, Notre Dame was suddenly in the ACC for a year. The Irish beat Clemson this season and have a little work left to qualify for the ACC title game, where, win or lose, they’ll likely get into the College Football Playoff.

Oops. No, they don’t have a little to do anymore. On Tuesday, the ACC rigged things to make sure Notre Dame won’t be left out of the conference championship game. 

The conference announced that Notre Dame won’t have to bother playing its final game against Wake Forest. The ACC decided to assume that Notre Dame would’ve beaten them anyway, I guess. No reason to risk an upset. As a result, Notre Dame has now clinched a spot in the ACC title game.

The ACC also decided that Clemson wouldn’t have to play Florida State, which helps the Tigers get the other spot in the league title game. Basically, the ACC decided that Notre Dame will play Clemson again in the championship game.

Why? Well, in the conference’s news release, they said it was to “preserve the integrity’’ of the ACC Championship Game.

By the way, sorry, Miami. Your chances of getting into the ACC title game are just about gone now.

But at least “integrity’’ has been preserved. The ACC seems to suggest they did this to keep Notre Dame and Clemson from unnecessarily being wiped out by COVID before the title game.

Herbstreit apologized for saying what he did about Michigan, but he also said this on ESPN: “I’ve talked to a lot of coaches around the country that have said they really feel teams are opting out to avoid playing games because they don’t want to get humiliated. . .They don’t necessarily have too many COVID positives. They just don’t want to have to take the team. . . they have and go get embarrassed. So they’re basically waving the white flag and saying `We can’t play.’’’

That’s roughly what Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney accused Florida State of doing on Nov. 21, when the Tigers showed up in Tallahassee only to have FSU decline to play because Clemson had a player with Covid.

Herbstreit obviously doesn’t believe in the sport’s integrity, either. And it’s hard to deny that people are making rules up as they go, working their way around the virus for reasons other than health and safety.

Ohio State didn’t play Illinois Saturday, theoretically for legit COVID concerns. But now the Buckeyes can’t miss another game and still be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game, according to conference rules.

Look, anyone who thinks Notre Dame, I mean Ohio State, will get screwed out of the Playoff has not been paying attention for the past 100 years. Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State. These are power players in college football. 

Nothing can stop the Big Ten from changing its requirements for teams to play in the league championship game. The rules are all made up anyway. If the ACC can give Notre Dame and Clemson passes into their title game, then the Big Ten can just wave Ohio State in too. 

That might not be fair to Indiana, who may have deserved that spot under the current rules. But who cares? If Notre Dame had been upset by Wake Forest, or Clemson by Florida State, then that would have opened up a spot in the Playoff for an outsider, too.

Like, say, Cincinnati.

Sorry, Cincinnati. You’re not getting in. But don’t rule out power player USC, which has a very real chance of being an undefeated Pac-12 champ.

No one is talking about them. That’s probably because people think if the Trojans get in, the integrity of college football wouldn’t be preserved.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.


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  1. OSU gets in the playoff this year the same way Biden is getting into the White House-by any means necessary! Disney/ESPN wants maximum eyeballs on the CFP…no room for at the table for Group of 5 or not-yet-ready Power 5 teams (that’s you Texas A&M). They might not be in the order they are this week, but on Dec 20th, the same teams you see now in the top 4 will be the same teams in the CFP. I’ve got it Bama vs ND in the Sugar, Clemson vs OSU in the Rose.

  2. Do you have no editor? It is not “tow the line” – it is “toe the line”. Even an engineering geek like me knows this; you would think a Professional Sports Journalist would know it as well.

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