On March 27, 2020, NCAA college football analyst and ESPN personality Kirk Herbstreit suggested the 2020 college football season might be in jeopardy. His comments came just 17 days after the Ivy League canceled its basketball tournament, which turned out to be the first domino to fall and started a chain reaction with other sports and leagues shutting down operations across the nation.
Herbstreit received a huge backlash. Many fans, coaches, athletic directors, and even one of his co-hosts took umbrage with his comments. Now, with each passing day in July more closely resembling those days in mid-March, and one domino after another tumbling in succession, Herbstreit is looking like Nostradamus. Here’s a look back at who said what and how it’s played out since.
Kirk Herbstreit offered a grim assessment
Kirk Herbstreit appeared on ESPN Radio in late March and when asked what he thought about the prospects of the 2020 college football season, the former Ohio State quarterback didn’t hesitate to suggest there was a distinct possibility it might not happen at all.
“In my opinion, until we have a vaccine, where we’ve really got some control over this, even if this curve is flattened out, this virus is still out there. I’ll be shocked, I haven’t talked with anybody, but I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football. I’ll be so surprised if that happens,” Herbstreit said.
The ESPN College GameDay host said he understood it was early on in the process for determining the future of sports, but as a nation, we were still early in the pandemic. “As much as I hate to say it, I think we’re scratching the surface of where this thing’s gonna go.”
Kirk Herbstreit received huge blowback
Not surprisingly, the response to Herbstreit’s comments came quickly. One of the first to react was Herbstreit’s fellow co-host on College GameDay Rece Davis, who appeared on ESPN’s “First Take.”
“I’m far more optimistic and more hopeful than you know Kirk’s quote there, at this point,” Davis said. “I just think that’s a little bit premature at this juncture, while offering the caveat, there is so much unknown out there and Kirk’s right based on everything I’ve read in terms of the medical experts in terms of a vaccine.”
Without question, the most vocal critic of Herbstreit’s remarks was Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. The veteran coach took issue with his assessment and wasn’t shy in expressing his own opinion.
“If anybody can really predict what can happen next week, they should be in the stock market,” Kelly said on a local radio talk show, Weekday Sportsbeat. “I heard Kirk Herbstreit come out last week and say, ‘No way.’ Kirk does not know what he’s talking about. Really? For him, you know, talk in those terms, he’s not a scientist. He’s a college football analyst. We’ll let the scientists determine those things.”
Will Herbstreit be proven right?
Shortly after Kirk Herbstreit made his initial comments and received so much harsh feedback, he addressed the response. He said he spoke with numerous officials who said they had three or four contingency plans in place, including one where the season might start in February or March, which would turn football into a spring sport.
As the pandemic continues to spread and the numbers of infected and dead continue to rise at an alarming rate, those contingency plans discussed in March are feverishly being reviewed now more than ever by college administrators with changes and updates occurring on a daily basis. And once again, the Ivy League is leading the way. The league announced this week there would not be any fall sports, which sent shockwaves across the college landscape, in a move that was eerily similar to what happened in March.
The Big 10 followed by announcing it was adjusting the football schedule for its teams, and there would be no non-conference games played. And in an ironic twist, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick offered his less-than-enthusiastic assessment of the situation.
“It has grown more pessimistic over the past two weeks, but I’m not to a point to say we shouldn’t continue to plan for the potential to open on time,” Swarbrick said ESPN. “I just think it’s less likely. We have to shift our allocations a little bit — a little more time on planning the alternatives, and a little less time on planning routine go-forward.”
When Kirk Herbstreit made his initial comments in March, he was offering his opinion of the situation based on the information he had at that moment. He could have never imagined the grossly incompetent response of the federal government would only bolster his claim. But here we are. And now the entire college football community nervously waits for the next domino to fall.