Warde Manuel saw what Kirk Herbstreit said about Michigan football on Tuesday night.
And Michigan’s athletic director was not pleased.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Manuel said Wednesday of Herbstreit’s comments.
During ESPN’s College Football Playoff rankings show, Herbstreit — the renowned analyst and a former Ohio State quarterback — implied that the Wolverines, who are 2-4, would not want to play the fourth-ranked Buckeyes and could cite coronavirus concerns in canceling the Dec. 12 matchup in Columbus, which would prevent Ohio State from reaching the Big Ten championship game.
“I still think Michigan waves the white flag (and) potentially avoids playing Ohio State next week,” Herbstreit said on the show. “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.”
The Wolverines paused all in-person activities Monday due to an increased number of COVID-19 cases before announcing Wednesday afternoon that Saturday’s game against Maryland would be canceled. The earliest Michigan can resume practice is Dec. 7.
Herbstreit apologized for his comments Tuesday night, releasing a video on Twitter in which he said, “I had no business at all saying that. I have no evidence of that. It was completely unfair to the University of Michigan, to Jim Harbaugh, to his players and his coaches.”
The apology did little to appease Manuel.
“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,” Manuel said. “We’ve been playing this game since 1879. We’re the winningest program for a reason, because we play whoever’s in front of us. The only way we want to keep anybody from moving on is to beat them on the field as a player.
“To insinuate that, to say something other than that, is a statement by a fool. It is something — 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, it is ridiculous and sad.”
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During Tuesday night’s show, Herbstreit was asked by Rece Davis to clarify his initial comments, and while Herbstreit said he “doesn’t know all the (COVID) numbers,” he seemed to double down on his earlier assertion that the Wolverines would duck Ohio State.
“We live in a strange world, and I’ve talked to a lot of coaches around the country that have said that they really feel teams are opting out to avoid playing games,” Herbstreit said. “Because they don’t want to get humiliated. They don’t want to lose with the team that they have.
“I have no idea what Michigan’s situation is, but I’m saying they have the power to potentially say, ‘Hey, we can’t play next week.’ And there’s nothing Ohio State can do about it.”
The Big Ten requires six games played to qualify for the Big Ten championship game; Ohio State is 4-0 and had a game earlier this season against Maryland canceled due to the Terrapins’ COVID-19 outbreak, then had to cancel last weekend’s game against Illinois due to a COVID outbreak within the program that saw coach Ryan Day test positive.
Ohio State would need to play both Saturday’s game against Michigan State and next weekend’s game against Michigan to qualify for the conference title game. Failure to do so could hurt the Buckeyes’ CFP chances.
Manuel wasn’t the only member of Michigan’s athletic department seemingly frustrated by Herbstreit’s comments.
“The important thing to remember here is that this is medical information, as a healthcare professional, I’m bound by my state license,” said Darryl Conway, a senior associate athletic director and Michigan’s chief health and welfare officer, in a video provided to reporters by the football program. Conway is a licensed athletic trainer in the state of Michigan.
“If I were to lie or if I were to be non-transparent and not tell the truth to what has been asked of me every single day, then I can lose my license, and I’m not going to lose my license over a football game or over gamesmanship over another school, and I think that’s true all throughout the conference, is that every single person who is doing this reporting is a healthcare professional that is licensed and can lose their license if they are not truthful.”