“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Andy Williams’ famous holiday song plays over in our heads constantly during college football’s bowl season. The Capital One bowl commercial is a staple for every college football fan. But, things are changing with the recent news of star running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey sitting out of bowl games in preparation for the NFL draft.
— Christian McCaffrey (@CMccaffrey5) December 19, 2016
College football has a problem, and I don’t know how to fix it.
I don’t disagree with Fournette and McCaffrey deciding to end their college careers one game early. Both LSU and Stanford have had disappointing seasons, for its standards. At the beginning of the fall, both schools had national title hopes and both players had high odds of winning the Heisman Trophy. McCaffrey was a finalist a year ago. LSU (7-4) ends its season in the Citrus Bowl and Stanford (9-3) in the Sun Bowl. Not exactly how the year was supposed to play out.
So why should two running backs, with first-round NFL Draft grades risk their health over a glorified exhibition football game? For the two top tier runners, these bowl games can do nothing but hurt their stocks for the NFL Draft. At best, they’ll play the game and come out with a brand new Fossil watch. At worst, an injury occurs and they lose millions of dollars by playing in a “meaningless” bowl game. Of course, if this were a Playoff Semi-final game or New Year’s Six bowl game the two would play.
These two decisions have left fans deciding between whether the players are being smart or selfish.
Smart vs Selfish
This time last year Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a severe knee injury that left him with permanent nerve damage. Smith was considered by many NFL scouts to be a top five draft pick. Instead, Smith dropped to the second round because NFL teams weren’t confident in the long term health of his knee.
Say Jaylon Smith went 5th overall. He’d get a fully guaranteed 4-yr, $23.5M deal. Wound up with a 4-yr, $6.5M ($4.5M guar) deal instead.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 19, 2016
Fournette has struggled with an ankle injury all season. He’s missed multiple games and has been hobbled in others. McCaffrey missed a game due to an injury earlier this season. Being reminded of Jaylon Smith’s situation from last bowl season makes the two running back’s moves look smart for their futures. As running backs, another game would mean another 20-plus opportunities to carry the football. The nature of the position is different than others. Ball carriers are hit multiple times each time they touch the ball. This could be an extra 100 hits on a player. A big risk.
Others find the move selfish and believe this is an example of quitting on your team. Some say NFL general managers will see this as a “red flag” or a mark of not being a team player. Miami head coach Mark Richt was asked about his thoughts on this Monday after McCaffrey announced his news.
Mark Richt very clear about players skipping bowls for NFL prep: 👎
“Finish what you started.”
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) December 19, 2016
Obviously, a coach is going to preach this message in order for players to not skip out on games, just because. The reality is, this is a business decision for these two players. These guys are near locks to be first-round picks. It’s time to be selfish, because if they don’t, no one else will stand up for them.
Fournette and McCaffrey have given the last three years of their lives to their universities and have been great ambassadors. McCaffrey’s teammates are behind him.
The whole team supports @CMccaffrey5 in everything and anything. Hes been a leader to this team through the easy times and tough times.
— Trenton Irwin (@trenton_4) December 19, 2016
Stars Skipping Bowls a Slippery Slope
College Football fans are worried about what this could mean for their beloved sport. How many superstars in the future will leave their teams before a lower-tier bowl game? Where will it stop? Will players now bounce out a month early if their team’s have a disappointing year? There’s always chatter about the elite of the elite skipping entire seasons to protect themselves from injury (a la Jadeveon Clowney).
I think this will be something we see more of. It may become a trend. But, I don’t think this will ruin the sport. Most star players will be playing in “meaningful” bowl games like the Playoff or the New Year’s Six. Players won’t skip those.
I understand the fear of some college fans, though. I don’t see a way to fix this, other than paying the players… And, that’s going down another rabbit hole.