Kirk Herbstreit is paid handsomely to give his analysis on football. Period.

For my money (which it isn’t), he’s as good as there is in the business. The ability to break down teams from coast to coast is a skill that he mastered. To do that with ever-changing rosters in the sport with 134 FBS teams — roughly 4 times the size of any major professional sports league in America — is darn near impossible. For nearly 3 decades, Herbstreit worked his tail off to earn that reputation as a voice of reason in an often chaotic sport. He did his best to combat the notion that he pulled for certain schools, including his alma mater (Ohio State), all for the sake of providing fair, “call-it-like-he-sees-it” analysis.

While I might not always agree with Herbstreit — I strongly opposed his Florida State Playoff thoughts and his subsequent back-and-forths with Seminoles fans on social media — I won’t fault someone as respected as he is for doing just that. You know, calling it like he sees it.

But with Dylan Raiola, Herbstreit didn’t just call it like he saw it. He went out of his way to influence one of the top recruits in the country.

In case you missed it, here’s how Raiola’s dad, former Nebraska All-American Dominic Raiola, recalled Herbstreit getting in contact with him once rumors spread that his son could flip from Georgia to Nebraska before the Early Signing Period began:

“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.”

I know what you’re thinking. Raiola’s family ties might’ve always pushed him away from Georgia to Nebraska and in the grand scheme of things, Herbstreit reaching out to Raiola’s dad to say “he’s gotta do it” might not have had any impact whatsoever on that decision. Agreed.

But notice how this information was released. Herbstreit didn’t share this revelation himself. It was Raiola’s dad, Dominic, who shed light on that encounter. This also wasn’t Herbstreit being asked a question on College GameDay or any of ESPN’s other college football programs. That hypothetical sequence could’ve played out like this and it wouldn’t have moved the needle:

Rece Davis: “Kirk, there’s been a lot of talk about Dylan Raiola changing his mind and flipping from Georgia to Nebraska. What do you think he should do?”

Herbstreit: “Honestly, if I were Dylan Raiola, I’d try to be part of the change at Nebraska. You can help turn around a proud tradition, and if you do that in Lincoln, you’re a god. If you go to Georgia, you’ll be scrutinized for not being as good as Stetson Bennett IV or Carson Beck.”

Of course, that sequence didn’t happen.

Herbstreit wasn’t simply asked to fulfill his professional obligation of calling it as he saw it. If that had played out, you could’ve disagreed with Herbstreit’s point but those comments wouldn’t have sparked a debate about his ethics.

Instead, though, that’s exactly the conversation we should be having. If you disagree with that, you either bleed Big Red or you’re a “what happened to the 1st Amendment” person who refuses to acknowledge that words can still have consequences.

(Still disagree with that? I dare you to walk into your boss’ office, drop a profanity-laced rant about how incompetent they are, and then let me know about your future employment status.)

Herbstreit doesn’t figure to face any sort of consequences from ESPN, but in a position of major influence, one’s credibility is everything. It’s not just that Herbstreit ticked off a Georgia fan base that still hasn’t cooled down since UGA legend David Pollack was let go by ESPN last year and replaced by Pat McAfee, who told Georgia fans to “go to hell” after losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship.

It’s that Herbstreit saw a coveted recruit waffling on his college decision, and he used his influence to try and tip the scales.

It doesn’t matter that Herbstreit himself isn’t some Nebraska legend. In a strange way, that’d be more understandable. It would take the sting away from Georgia fans, plenty of whom will now (fair or not) try to sift through any bias in his UGA-related analysis. Herbstreit is allowed to have biases for people, or even in some situations, he can admit that he has a soft spot for a team because of a certain connection that he might have.

But when you’re the No. 1 voice in the sport and you’ve made an entire career of calling it as you see it, you jeopardize that reputation by going rogue to impact someone who could have a major impact on the sport in the latter half of the 2020s. You can’t claim you’re just “a fan of the sport who wants to see traditional powers return” while maintaining neutrality when you’re also trying to directly impact their path to success.

This is different than a grown adult in the coaching world calling up Herbstreit to advise him on whether he should leave for a certain job. It’s even different than Herbstreit calling it as he saw it with Miami not spending enough on the football program, which influenced those decision-makers enough to fire Manny Diaz and hire Mario Cristobal.

The way that I see it, Herbstreit never intended for Dominic Raiola to share their private conversation. Sure, Herbstreit’s approval rating in Nebraska might be so high that he never has to pay for a meal in the state. Maybe Herbstreit will even fire up the Twitter fingers with a response that he didn’t intend to interfere with Raiola’s process of picking a school, and that he was just calling it like he saw it. Alternatively, he’ll do nothing and hope this blows over.

That could be seen as the path of least resistance for someone like Herbstreit, who at this point might feel like he walks on water in ways that few in the media do. If that’s how he sees it, so be it.

Time will tell how Herbstreit navigates some treacherous waters.