I don’t subscribe to Kirk Herbstreit’s notion that today’s college football players love the game less than the players of yesterday.

Herbstreit made this argument on ESPN’s College Gameday hours before Ohio State entered a matchup against Utah in the Rose Bowl while missing notable key players. 

The conversation began with discussing the sports’ opt-out problem that sparked Herbstreit to throw a blanket statement out there that has absolutely no validity whatsoever. Respectfully disagree. And I do mean respectfully.

You see, it’s OK that I disagree with Herbstreit’s take, and it’s also OK he had an extreme opinion on television. He doesn’t have to apologize for it. And he certainly shouldn’t be canceled for it, but somehow our society has forgotten how to debate opinions without attacking an individual who thinks differently.

That’s why I felt it was necessary to attack the opinion and not the person. 

Herbstreit’s exact quote on ESPN’s flagship college football show was, “I don’t think expanding the college Football Playoff is going to change anything. I just think this era of players doesn’t love football.”

So there are several issues I have with this statement. This issue of college football players opting out of bowl games is a direct result of money, fame and an oversaturated market.

While sharing their opinions on College Gameday, Herbstreit and Desmond Howard talked about their generation and how going to a bowl game really meant something back in the day. 

This is on-point analysis. You see, back in 1989, when Herbstreit arrived on Ohio State’s campus, there were only 18 bowl games. I think it goes without saying that if you were one of 36 teams to get to play in a bowl, it was a big deal.

That’s a lot different than having 40 bowls where 80 teams will go bowling. Heck, LSU had one of its worse seasons in the last two decades and it still played in a pretty darn decent bowl.

That’s one side of it. The other is the NFL. The average salary for NFL players back in 1989 was $299,000. Sure, that’s still a lot of money, but that’s far from the $45M Patrick Mahomes is set to make in 2022.

Clearly, it’s apples and oranges to compare the generations and what’s at stake financially.

But what about the first part of his statement? Would expanding the playoff truly not help this opt-out problem? If you expand the playoffs, I highly doubt you’re going to get any absences in the playoffs because that hasn’t been a problem for any of the four teams that get into the playoff on an annual basis. 

If teams like Georgia, Bama, LSU and Ohio State with top NFL prospects can keep their stars from opting out of the College Football Playoff, why wouldn’t teams like Ole Miss, Iowa, Utah and Michigan State be able to?

Finally, here’s an added bonus for you… Folks at ESPN don’t get to criticize college football’s postseason problems because the network helped create it. 

There’s literally a weekly show on ESPN dedicated to unveiling the top four teams in the country. There are ads that ask the question, “Who’s in?” That helped create a culture that values the playoff over top-tier bowl games.

I agree that college football is at a crossroads, and that something needs to be done about the postseason. But I will not criticize players for opting out of games that have been devalued over the years. Not when millions of dollars are potentially at stake.

The way you fix this is by expanding the playoffs and making more of these prestigious bowls matter by placing national championship implications on them. That way you eliminate the opt-out issue for more bowl games while also preserving the rich tradition of these games we love to watch every year. Now that’s something we can all enjoy.  

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