I’ll admit it, I had initially struggled with how I felt about players like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and now Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey skipping their upcoming bowl games to concentrate on draft prep. I grew up in an era where it was unheard of to bail on your teammates, to be selfish and not do what was best for the team, but what was best for you.
But I have come around on this. Times have changed. There is so much to risk by playing for players who are guaranteed first-round picks. These college players have spent the majority of their lives preparing for this very opportunity to get drafted and make football their career. They are not paid for the games they played in college. But their schools are.
Let’s face it, the bowl games are just not what they used to be. No one cares. What do the bowls really mean? Just more money for the schools. So yes, I have come around and understand the decisions by Fournette and now McCaffrey not to play in the Citrus Bowl and the Sun Bowl, respectively. They are not playing in the four-team playoff; if they were, I am sure they would play because they would be playing for a chance to win a championship. But most of these bowl games are meaningless.
I am sure these players love their teammates, coaches and playing the game. But with so much at stake they need to make the decision that is now best for them, not for the school. Our culture has changed. There is so much money at stake here. And while there are insurance policies for career-threatening injuries, there are not policies for a pulled hamstring, ankle injury, concussion or any other injury that can affect your ability to prepare for the combine and private workouts. There are no policies to protect a player from a minor injury that can drop them in the draft 10 spots, 20 spots or a round or two. Those drops can cost a player millions of dollars.
Look, let’s face it, the bowl games are way less important than the regular season unless you are in the playoffs. Many coaches start seniors as a reward, then play the younger players to get them the experience. The practice time is for the younger players. These bowl games are great for many players who want to be seen, who need to be seen. Players who can make an impact by having a great game and improve their draft status. I’m sure the backups to Fournette and McCaffrey are thrilled they will be getting the chance to show what they can do.
But for Fournette and McCaffrey, who are both projected first-round picks, playing in the game offers little motivation. And no NFL GM or coach is going to fault these players for not playing, I can guarantee you that.
Every player has to make their own choice. And with so much to risk, you can’t really fault the decisions by Fournette and McCaffrey. They are doing what is right for them and they earned that right.
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