Kirk Herbstreit: the worst thing going on in college football?

Last Saturday, there was a segment on ESPN’s popular College GameDay show centered around FBS-FCS matchups. You can watch it here:

Link

With the exception of Lee Corso, the ESPN crew was highly critical of FBS-FCS games, particularly those occurring late in the season (an SEC specialty).

The segment began with Chris Fowler listing a series of recent SEC opponents from the FCS. Fowler then noted:

Of course, a year ago this week Georgia Southern went to the swamp and did stun Georgia, giving license to all the SEC coaches to talk up the virtues, the worthiness, of today’s opponents.

Fowler delivered this line with a great deal of sarcasm, concentrating so much on his delivery that he forgot Georgia Southern actually beat Florida last year, not Georgia.

ESPN then showed snippets of various SEC coaches discussing their opponents for this week. The clips were clearly selected to make it seem that the coaches were overhyping their FCS foes.

If you were really paying attention, though, there wasn’t that much sandbagging going on. Mark Richt was probably a little over-the-top in extolling Charleston Southern’s “fever” to win, but there was nothing fraudulent about Gus Malzahn saying Samford was a “good I-AA team” (it is), or Nick Saban stating that Western Carolina was “a much improved team” (certainly true), or Will Muschamp noting that Eastern Kentucky was a playoff team in “I-AA, or whatever we’re calling that now” (he was right, as EKU made the FCS playoffs).

Also, Muschamp lost to an FCS school last year. Why wouldn’t he be concerned with a matchup against another team from that division?

Heck, he had been fired earlier in the week. Why would he have bothered overselling the game anyway?

Arguably, though, the most misleading clips were those of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, as he discussed South Alabama, the Gamecocks’ opponent last Saturday. There was no mention by anyone on the set that South Alabama wasn’t actually an FCS school at all (the Jaguars are members of the Sun Belt).

Considering South Carolina’s struggles of late (particularly on defense), Spurrier had good reason to be respectful of his upcoming opponent.

“We’re not trying to belittle [the FCS],” said Fowler, after spending the previous two minutes belittling the FCS. He then criticized the SEC for playing these games. “It’s not good for the sport.”

After a short interlude with Corso, Kirk Herbstreit looked right at the camera and said:

This is the worst thing that goes on in college football.

Yes. He said that. The worst thing that goes on in the sport. FCS vs. FBS matchups. Not any of the myriad off-field issues, not the safety concerns on the field, none of that.

“No due respect to the FCS and what they’re doing,” Herbstreit continued (with an unintentional but perhaps more accurate slip of the tongue), “…there should be a penalty [from the college football playoff committee]…when you play games like this. We need to eliminate these games when it comes to the non-conference [schedules]. They’re not good for the FCS schools, they’re not good for the SEC schools, or any other schools that play ‘em. It’s just bad for the game. We have no games this weekend!”

“I hate it!” me-tooed Desmond Howard, who added that when he was in school, his alma mater (Michigan) didn’t play FCS schools. Of course, that changed after Howard left Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines rather famously played an FCS school in 2007.

Lee Corso then pointed out that the games are a financial boon to the FCS schools. Herbstreit’s response: “We’ve got enough money now…if it’s about the money, give ‘em the money, just don’t schedule [these games].” Corso began cackling at the notion.

Let’s go through some of these comments:

- “There should be a penalty…when you play games like this.”

A team that schedules quality FBS non-conference opponents is probably going to be looked upon more favorably by the playoff committee than one that plays lesser competition. I’m not even sure that’s an issue.

Exactly how many FBS schools are going to be competing for one of those playoff spots in a given year, however? There are 65 FBS schools in the power five conferences (including Notre Dame in that group). How many of them are going to be serious contenders for one of four spots? What about the other 63 schools that compete at the FBS level? (Well, we probably know the answer to that last question.)

- “They’re not good for the FCS schools.”

This statement made me wonder if Herbstreit has ever talked to someone associated with an FCS school.

Besides the money aspect mentioned by Corso, FCS players almost always love playing these games. They like to measure themselves against top-level competition. They enjoy playing in large stadiums, in a “big time” atmosphere, often on television.

Fans of smaller schools usually like these games too, especially if they aren’t too far away. They are often used for alumni networking and fundraising.

Sometimes, there is an element of tradition associated with these contests. You don’t think alums from Furman or The Citadel enjoy occasional matchups with South Carolina or Clemson? I can assure you that they do.

- “We have no games this weekend!”

Well, I looked at the schedule. I saw plenty of games.

There may not have been a matchup between two ranked SEC teams, but keep in mind that various ESPN networks featured several prominent SEC battles early in the season, while other conferences were in the midst of their non-league schedules. It’s a trade-off.

The truth of the matter is there were a lot of quality games played last weekend. Maybe you had to look a little deeper into the world of college football to find them, but is that such a bad thing?

Also, remember Week 5 of this season? That Saturday, College GameDay wound up at the Missouri-South Carolina game, due to a perceived lack of quality matchups (both the Gamecocks and Tigers already had a loss at the time, with Mizzou having just lost at home to Indiana).

Was that slate of games so poor because of a bunch of FBS-FCS matchups? No. There were only two such games in that week: Army-Yale (a game won in double overtime by the Elis), and Eastern Illinois-Ohio (the Bobcats won 34-19).

Sometimes, the schedule for a given week just isn’t going to be that alluring. That has little to do with FBS-FCS games (which were only around 7% of the complete FBS schedule for the regular season anyway).

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir watched Herbstreit and company before WCU played Alabama later that day, and he wasn’t happy.

Now, I think Speir was a little heavyhanded in his criticism of Herbstreit. The “silver spoon” reference was not necessary.

However, I fully understand Speir’s frustration, and he had every right to call out the former Ohio State quarterback for his remarks (particularly the “worst thing that goes on in college football” line uttered by Herbstreit, which was simply ludicrous).

I thought it was good of Speir to speak out, and to let people know that he was personally offended by the comments that were made. Too often the point of view from the FCS side of the aisle goes unheard.

After all, Speir has been a coach on the FCS level for most of his career, including a long stint as an assistant at Appalachian State. He was in Michigan Stadium that fateful day when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines.

In my opinion, the FCS-FBS matchups are largely good for college football, because college football is about a lot more than the schools in the power five conferences. This is something that appears to be hard for some people to understand.

The concept of what is best for the greater good of college football — well, it seems to be lost in certain quarters. I’ve said this before, but I honestly get the impression some members of the national college football media cabal think there should only be thirty or forty schools that play football, and that the rest should just give up the sport.

I’m not the only person who gets that vibe, judging from these comments by Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman:

Huesman was watching “Gameday” from his hotel room in Greenville, S.C., before the Mocs’ game against Furman, but he said he will not watch the show again.

“Herbstreit has bothered me for a few years now,” Huesman said. “Nothing to him matters except big-time college football. And then Desmond Howard jumped in, too, and that’s when I had had enough. I’ll never watch that show again.

“I thought it was absolutely ridiculous for them to put on a rant like that during the course of a show about college football. I thought it was disrespectful. He just alienated people.

It should be pointed out that the backdrop for Saturday’s ESPN discussion was an FCS game (Yale-Harvard), and that College GameDay visited the fine folks at North Dakota State earlier this season (for the second consecutive year). There are people at the network who clearly appreciate the FCS, along with other divisions of college football. I’m glad for that.

I just wish there were more of them, and that they were on camera.

Complaint to ESPN, c/o The Sports Arsenal

From time to time I get e-mail responses to things I’ve written on the blog.  They tend to run the gamut, from words of encouragement to criticism to spam (plenty of spam).  However, I got an e-mail on Saturday that I think is worth sharing.  I won’t include the name of the lady who wrote it, because I don’t think that would be fair.  

First, some background.  On Saturday afternoon Michigan played Indiana in a game televised on ESPNU.  The announcers for the game were Pam Ward (play-by-play) and Danny Kanell (analyst).  I didn’t see it, as I was at Johnson Hagood Stadium watching The Citadel’s game, but apparently the matchup in Bloomington was an exciting contest that featured very little defense.  The Wolverines prevailed, 42-35.  Shortly after the game ended, the following e-mail was sent to me:

If Pam Ward was the announcer for the U of M game today (Saturday, 10/2/2010) at 3:30 p.m., you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Aside from the mispronounciation of Denard “Dernard???!!!” Robinson’s name, could you please find an announcer who’s excited about the game?  She’s boring and uninformed, maybe why she falls back on the criticism she’s ridiculed everywhere for?  There are so many awesome sports broadcasters in the industry – please get creative!  We hate every game she announces and we’re sick of being forced to listen.  Not as agonizing as watching the Lions play every Thanksgiving… BUT CLOSE.  Thanks!

This is, obviously, a fantastic e-mail.  That last line about Pam Ward as an announcer not being as agonizing as watching the Lions play on Thanksgiving puts it over the top.

Some points:

– While she criticizes Ward, the e-mailer doesn’t seem entirely certain it was actually Ward doing the announcing (“If Pam Ward was the announcer…”).  However, that doesn’t stop her from blasting Ward anyway.

– More importantly, to me anyway, is the notion that I might somehow be affiliated with ESPN (“you should be ashamed of yourselves”, “could you please find an announcer who’s excited about the game?”).  I am guessing that the e-mailer googled Pam Ward’s name and found this post I wrote about ESPN’s announcers for 2010, and assumed I was a publicist for the network or something.

I found this amusing, because while I do write about things that involve ESPN on occasion, so would anyone who writes about sports in this country, given the pervasive nature of the network.  I haven’t always written favorably about ESPN, either (see this post or this post, just for a couple of examples).

– The e-mailer is apparently a Michigan fan.  She is sick of “being forced to listen” to Ward, but to be honest I don’t think Ward has done a whole lot of games featuring the Wolverines.  When she was calling the noon game on ESPN2 the past few years, she usually called Big 10 games  — but the two schools I always associate with a Ward call are Michigan State and Northwestern.  Michigan usually was televised on ESPN (or the Big Ten Network) if it drew the noon slot.  At least, that’s how I remember it.  I could be wrong about that.

Incidentally, Ward now wants to call NFL games.

– I couldn’t agree more with the e-mailer about the Lions, though.  Why should the entire country be subjected to that franchise every Thanksgiving?  Can’t they rotate host teams?  I’m tired of the Cowboys too, but at least Dallas usually has a good team.  The Lions are almost always bad and boring.  This year, turkey day at Ford Field will include the visiting New England Patriots, so at least one of the teams involved should be good.  Of course, that means the score will probably be something like 47-10 or 34-12 (the score of the last two games played on Thanksgiving in Detroit, both losses by the Lions). 

That game will be on CBS.  I suppose Phil Simms will give away a silver iron again.  It’s a lame gimmick, but not as lame as the thing Fox hands out to its game MVP.

To sum up, I’m sorry I can’t do anything about Pam Ward (or any other ESPN announcer) calling your team’s game(s), but I’m not affiliated with the four-letter.  If I’m going to field complaints about ESPN, though, the least the folks in Bristol could do is send me some free stuff. 

I’m not asking for an ESPY gift pack or anything; I would settle for a College Gameday t-shirt (size XXL – I’m fairly tall).  I would ask for a hat, but I doubt ESPN carries a lot of promotional caps in size 7 ¾.  If they did, Mark Schlereth would probably grab all of them anyway.  He looks like he’s got a large noggin.

As always, thanks to the e-mailers (and commenters) for all their feedback.

ESPN College Football Announcers for 2010

ESPN has released its assignments for its college football game coverage, as well as its studio coverage.  As always, there are some new crews.  Highlights:

– Among the tandems that work the high-profile ESPN/ABC games, the one significant change is in the “west coast” team, where there will now be a three-man booth — Carter Blackburn, Brock Huard, and Mike Bellotti.  The former Oregon coach is in his first season as an analyst; he works with Huard, who was the analyst for the SEC ESPNU primetime game last year.  Blackburn called mostly west coast games on the U last season after moving over from CBS College Sports.

That team essentially replaces the Terry Gannon/David Norrie duo from 2009. Gannon is not listed on this year’s release; he may just have too much already on his announcing plate (Dave Lamont filled in for him a few times last season as it was). Norrie is going to ESPN Radio, replacing Dennis Franchione as Bill Rosinski’s analyst.  Norrie will also work a few midweek TV games (along with Robert Smith), teaming with Beth Mowins.

– That’s right, there is now a second woman play-by-play voice calling college football for ESPN.  Mowins will apparently have a limited schedule.

Pam Ward is still around, and presumably as intolerant of injured players as ever. However, she’s been moved from the noon ET ESPN2 slot to 3:30 pm ET on ESPNU, much to the relief of Michigan State and Northwestern fans everywhere.  Her analyst will be Danny Kanell.

– Kanell, the former FSU quarterback, also will do some studio work.  He’s the breakout star, I guess, of the multitude of game callers/analysts who worked ESPN360 (now ESPN3.com) games last season.  What does that say about the talent featured on ESPN3.com in 2009?  Well…

The release doesn’t mention anything about who will work ESPN3.com games this year; it does note that “additional commentators will contribute throughout the season”.  There will be a lot of “additional contributors” both on ESPN3.com and on the regular TV platforms.  Week 1, for example, will include 11 games that will be shown live exclusively on ESPN3.com.

– Erin Andrews will be hosting the first hour of an expanded College Gameday (that was announced last month).  She will also be the sideline reporter for the game site from which the program originates, assuming it’s on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2.

That means the other high-profile game tandems will probably flip-flop sideline reporters a bit more often than normal, although most of the time Andrews will likely work with Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit.  Last year, the sideline reporter with that duo was Lisa Salters, who will not be back this year.

Quint Kessenich moves from the Big East regional game of the week to a national gig; his replacement on the sidelines for the Big East games is Eamon McAnaney.  I think there is a lacrosse announcer quota involved in that switch, but I’m not sure.

Andrews won’t be roaming the sidelines on Thursday night any more.  “The new EA” is Jenn Brown, who like Andrews is a Florida grad, blond, and destined to become a sports blog/message board favorite.

– The other change on Thursday nights is Rece Davis taking over play-by-play duties from Chris Fowler.  I like Davis, although he isn’t really a natural at play-by-play, but I’m not a fan of the Craig James/Jesse Palmer dual threat.  I find their combined analysis rather banal; at least James wears a properly sized tie.

– Fowler remains the ringleader for College Gameday, with Lee Corso (who I hope has now fully recovered from his stroke), Herbstreit, and Desmond Howard.  There was little change in personnel for the major studio shows. That’s right, another year of Dr. Lou (with Davis and Mark May) and The Bachelor (with John Saunders).  Robert Flores takes over as the new update guy on ABC.

There were some moves on the SEC-on-ESPN desk.  Dari Nowkhah will now be the syndication studio host, as Rob Stone will call games on ESPNU (he’s working the noon U game with David Pollack).  Another change of interest for SEC fans is the new primetime team for that league on ESPNU.  Clay Matvick and Herm Edwards will replace Eric Collins and Brock Huard.  Edwards may be a San Diego State alum, but he strikes me as a natural pick to analyze SEC action, as teams in that conference definitely play to win the game.

As mentioned earlier, Huard is working west coast games this season, while Collins has apparently moved to the Big 10 Network.  If I see a release listing announcers for the BTN/CBS College Sports/etc., I’ll post it here; the other BTN announcing news of note I’ve seen suggests that Tom Hart will be joining that network.

Edit (8/25/10) — Here is the BTN release, with Hart and Collins listed as announcers:  Link

Another non-ESPN announcing note:  The ACC game of the week, produced by Raycom, will have a new analyst this year, with David Archer replacing Rick “Doc” Walker.  This, if not a national tragedy, is at least a regional outrage.  I need to know which ACC players are actually cyborgs.

– Anish Shroff will take over from Charlie Neal as the play-by-play man for ESPNU’s Thursday night games.  Luckily, CitiField will not host a football game this season.

– Joe Tessitore will call the Friday night ESPN2 games with Rod Gilmore again, but Tessitore (who I find enjoyably bombastic) will also be the play-by-play voice for the ESPN-3D games, which will feature separate production teams for “regular” and 3D broadcasts.  He’ll work with new analyst Tim Brown and sideline reporter Ray Bentley (who had worked with Pam Ward for the last three seasons).

– The noon ESPN/ESPN2 games will each have Grieses in the booth.  Bob Griese returns with Chris Spielman and Dave Pasch on ESPN, while the ESPN2 game will feature Brian Griese (who had a promising debut last year) with play-by-play man Bob Wischusen.

Pasch and Wischusen are both guys who could/should work higher-profile games, but each is a radio announcer for an NFL team (the Cardinals for Pasch, the Jets for Wischusen) and are basically limited to early-afternoon Saturday games on ESPN.

– Ron Franklin, who was planning on retiring, is back and working again with Ed Cunningham.  I hope that team gets some heavy-duty games this year.

Getting closer to kickoff…

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