Sep 16, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit on the set of ESPN College GameDay prior to the game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Colorado State Rams at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

While the early National Signing Day in December has taken a lot of the buzz away from the traditional National Signing Day in February, that wasn’t the case on Wednesday.

Joining’s National Signing Day coverage, Dominic Raiola discussed the recruitment of his son, 5-star quarterback Dylan Raiola, who signed with Nebraska last December. And in doing so, the older Raiola revealed that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, of all people, played a significant role in his son’s decision to flip from Georgia to the Cornhuskers.

“When this was happening, I’ll bring up one guy’s name, his name is Kirk Herbstreit,” 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.”

Not surprisingly, Raiola’s comments caught fire.

While the lines can often be blurred at ESPN when it comes to the roles of its personalities, this seemed like a pretty clear case of the network’s top college football analyst effectively recruiting on behalf of a program. How are Georgia fans supposed to view Herbstreit as an impartial figure when they’re under the impression that he help dissuade a top quarterback recruit from signing with the Bulldogs? How should the rest of the Big Ten feel about Herbstreit helping Matt Rhule jumpstart his time in Lincoln with a 5-star quarterback?

Even Herbstreit’s ESPN colleague, Paul Finebaum, admitted “this is a really bad look for Herbstreit.” Finebaum even went on to state that he believed Raiola’s story to be true, as Herbstreit —  who’s “pretty flippant on Twitter” — had yet to publicly respond.

While Herbstreit has yet to issue a public statement (or tweet) about the controversy, he did discuss it with On3’s Andy Staples. During Wednesday’s episode of Andy Staples On3, the show’s host revealed Herbstreit’s side of the story for the first time.

“I said Kirk, what is your side of the story on this?” Staples said. “And we talked about it and he explained that he has a relationship with Dominic Raiola. They know each other, they’ve talked plenty of times before and that they were having a conversation about Dylan’s recruitment. Now Kirk is quick to point out that he is not someone who follows a lot of the day-to-day of recruiting. So the part I’m not so sure is quite accurate from Dom’s retelling of the story is the — Kirk finds out that Dylan is considering the flip and asks Dom to call right out of the blue to say, ‘Go to Nebraska.’ That’s not how it happened according to Kirk.

“Basically they are talking kind of father to father — Kirk’s had a few sons play college football as well… and they’re talking about the whole process. Basically, according to Kirk, Dom is asking, ‘Hey, how much should I talk about the possibility of if you go to Nebraska, you could be a program changer. You could be a difference maker. You could be a legend if the if you wind up helping bring this program back to where it wants to be?’ And Kirk — who was complimentary of Matt Rhule, the Nebraska coach, and Kirby Smart in this whole situation, says, ‘Well, yeah, that would that would be cool. Like, it would be cool if he could do that.’ And that’s pretty much where it was. Which is not the same thing as, ‘Go to Nebraska.’

“Kirk Herbstreit understands his job, he understands his platform. He’s not going to be dumb enough to be telling people, ‘Go to this school. Don’t go to this school.’ That would get out and trust me, it would get back to the coaches. And he’s gotta deal with all of them. I think people are overreacting to this a little bit.”

While some may view Herbstreit even advising recruits and their families as problematic in his role, outright telling them where they should (and in turn, shouldn’t) go is an obvious conflict of interest. That’s what made Raiola’s story so jarring, as it was hard to interpret his version as anything but — as Finebaum said — a bad look for Herbstreit.

As for why the College GameDay analyst has yet to speak for himself on the matter, Staples said that he didn’t want to make it a bigger story than it already was. From that perspective, it’s likely too late, as it’s hard to imagine that Herbstreit will be able to completely avoid publicly commenting on the matter and will likely be required to do so sooner rather than later.

[Andy Staples On3, Rivals]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.