ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit during the TCU Horned Frogs game against the Georgia Bulldogs during the CFP national championship game at SoFi Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The line between being a member of the media and being involved in the sports you cover has always been a hazy one at ESPN.

It often seems like, more than any other sport, that line gets crossed most often around college football. Specifically, by the people involved with College GameDay.

Just this past year, Pat McAfee shamed Washington State fans and alums for complaining as their entire conference crumbled around them. Desmond Howard threw Pete Thamel under the bus live on-air over his reporting on the Michigan sign-stealing scandal. Kirk Herbstreit felt the need to shut down Florida State fans upset about the CFP decision to an unhealthy degree. And Rece Davis wouldn’t say CGD has the power to influence the College Football Playoff committee, they do give them “something to think about.”

Perhaps no one on the panel walks the line quite like Kirk Herbstreit. Over the years, Herbstreit has accused conferences of not showing enough fealty to ESPN, accused players of faking injuries, got into a Twitter war with an OSU recruit, shamed student-athletes for not playing in bowl games (which are mostly owned by ESPN), and used his pulpit to set in motion a series of events that led to Miami replacing Manny Diaz with Mario Cristobal.

Herbstreit has never hidden his love for the sport and how intertwined he is with major programs and power brokers. And it’s one thing to use his spot on GameDay to influence schools and athletic directors, but it’s another thing altogether to influence the actual players.

Five-star quarterback Dylan Raiola has had a whirlwind recruiting process, to say the least. Originally committed to Ohio State, he would later commit to Georgia before eventually flipping to Matt Rhule’s Nebraska program. There had been a lot of rumors about that final flip happening before it eventually went down, and according to Raiola’s father, Herbstreit took the unusual step of reaching out to him to push for the recruit to make that decision.

“When this was happening, I’ll bring up one guy’s name, his name is Kirk Herbstreit,” Dominic Raiola said during an interview with Rivals’ Adam Gorney. “When he saw the smoke about Dylan entertaining Nebraska, he was like call me, he was like ‘Dude if this is true, he’s gotta do it.’ His affinity for Nebraska, for a guy like that to tell me and get behind me, you know I knew he needed to do it, but I wasn’t going to sit here and say you need to go change that place or be a part of the change of that place. So when Kirk told me that, you know I was like man, I had other coaches reach and say the place is special and coach Rhule is a special leader.”

That’s odd, right? The leading voice on ESPN’s college football coverage (and arguably the biggest name in college football media), personally told the father of a five-star recruit he should de-commit from Georgia to go play at Nebraska. It’s not illegal by any means, but it doesn’t feel like the most ethically sound thing a member of the media could be doing.

Of course, given that Dominic Raiola played for Nebraska and Rhule has the program on the upswing, Herbstreit’s phone call might not have meant much. But the fact that it happens, if it happened as Raiola tells it, seems wildly out of step.

Say what you will about the separation of church and state at ESPN when it comes to their TV deals and on-air talent, but having their No. 1 college football guy personally sway a recruit away from an SEC school as the network gets cozy with that conference just feels like bad form on a few levels.

At the very least, Herbstreit just made things very uncomfortable for himself the next time GameDay is live from Athens.

[Rivals]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.