ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit made waves during the College Football Playoff rankings show on Tuesday night when he questioned whether Michigan would use its COVID-19 cases as an excuse to not play Ohio State on Dec. 12.
Herbstreit quickly issued an apology, but Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel was still fuming about Herbstreit’s comments on Wednesday. He did not mince words.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Manuel said via The Wolverine. “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.”
Michigan canceled game vs. Maryland
Michigan has not practiced this week due to positive COVID-19 tests coming back on Monday. Earlier Wednesday, Michigan was forced to pause all football activities and cancel its game this weekend against Maryland.
If Michigan is unable to play next weekend, it would cause Ohio State to fall short of the six-game minimum needed to be eligible for the Big Ten title game. Ohio State lost a game earlier in the season against Maryland because of virus issues with the Terps. Last week, Ohio State’s own COVID-19 cases caused it to cancel its game against Illinois.
OSU is scheduled to return to the field this Saturday against Michigan State for its fifth game of the year.
Herbstreit makes accusations, later apologizes
Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, said on the Tuesday night show that Michigan might “wave the white flag” to “potentially avoid playing Ohio State next week.”
“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. But that could potentially happen next week,” Herbstreit said in a back-and-forth with David Pollack.
Herbstreit also said he heard from “coaches around the country” who feel that teams have been using COVID-19 as a way to dodge opponents.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches around the country that have said they really feel teams are opting out to avoid playing in games. Because they don’t want to get humiliated. They don’t want to lose with the team that they have,” Herbstreit said. “They don’t necessarily have too many COVID positives, they just don’t want to have to take the field with the team they have and go get embarrassed so they’re basically waving the white flag and saying we can’t play.”
Not long after the show, though, Herbstreit apologized and said he had “no evidence” to make such an accusation against Michigan.
“I had no business at all saying that,” Herbstreit said. “I have no evidence of that. It’s completely unfair to the University of Michigan, to Jim Harbaugh, to his players and coaches and I just want to apologize.”
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) December 2, 2020
Manuel: We hope we can play Ohio State
The earliest Michigan can return to practice is Monday. Manuel said that the athletic department was waiting on the results of “over 100 tests” later Wednesday.
“We hope to play as we hoped to play every game this year. Any team in our league that has stopped thus far had the goal of playing every game,” Manuel said.
“It is disheartening that we’re not going to be able to play Maryland and our hope is that we can play Ohio State and finish the season in the final week.”
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