Thursday, December 29, 2016

To Play, or not to Play: A College Football Trend

Bowl games have forever been a staple of college football tradition dating back to 1902. It gives teams the opportunity to travel and (typically) play a foreign opponent in one last final game to end their season on a high note. For seniors and those who will forego their last year in favor of the draft, it's one last time to strap up the pads with their brothers. 

Or perhaps some don't feel like part of the family. 

Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, both expected to be selected in late April for the 2017 NFL Draft, are only a few of the names of NCAA football players that will not be participating in their team's bowl game.  

McCaffrey's statement: 

"Very tough decision, but I have decided not to play in the Sun Bowl so I can begin my draft prep immediately... Thanks to all my teammates for their 100 percent support -- it means a lot to me. Go Cardinal!"

To many players like McCaffrey and Fournette, the choice to skip their bowl games is a business decision. They're well aware of the risk of playing in what is simply a glorified exhibition game, and are not willing to put potential glory, fame and financial security for years to come on the line. 

Simplify the issue by taking a business approach and removing the football element out of the topic, and it appears to be a no-brainer: Don't risk anything before you get the big promotion. However, that's not the shared opinion of an overwhelming majority in the collegiate sports world. 

Kynan Smith, a WR for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, is one of the many players who disagree with the choice to skip their final game of their careers. "The way I see it is, if you go to battle with your team week after week and accomplish every teams goal which is to win and then go to the post season and decide that you don't want to participate in the bowl it's kind of selfish". You can follow Kynan on twitter @KynanSmith.

Smith's comments relay a message that mirrors the same stance many other players possess. Sure, Christian McCaffrey's teammates may support him, but to what extent? As a competitor, how does it look when your best player, the same one you call a brother and have fought with all season, decides to walk away before your final battle? A feeling such as disappointment comes to mind, and any player who feels as such cannot be blamed.

This is supposed to be college football, where everything (on face value, at least) is all about pride, passion and tradition. The NCAA is supposed to represent a true form of sport, where players don't let money drive motivation.

But what do you do when your kids are doing just that? 

It's a tough position to be put in. Although frowned upon by many, the NCAA nor the school have no true say in the player's decision, ultimately leaving a lose-lose situation for the institution and the governing board. 

The problem isn't necessarily the immediate impact of players not playing in their bowl games. Surely fans will be disappointed not to see the likes of Leonard Fournette suit up come game time, however there are 41 bowl games that will be played this postseason: Money will be made. Where the true problem rests, is in the future. Is this the beginning of a trend for players looking to further their careers in the NFL? What happens when a star quarterback with an injury riddled past decides to sit out a championship game? It's fair to assume a player wouldn't dare skip a College Football Playoff game, but we also assumed when these kids signed their letter of intent, they'd play every snap they could.

A sad reality for NCAA presidents is these kids don't just have goals for college. Sure, a national championship sounds great. You know what rings better to the ear of a broke college student? Millions of dollars and the title of "Professional football player".

However, those who actually reach their championship aspirations, much less their professional ones, remain a vastly small minority in comparison to the thousands of players in the college football today. This eases the minds of big decision makers within the NCAA, for the time being.

 It's clear there is some needed change within the sport, and not just on the field. 

As mentioned earlier in the article, 41 bowl games will have been played by the end of the postseason. Surely players value big bowl games such as the College Football Playoff, yet what value does a Belk Bowl or TaxSlayer Bowl present to players? The number, and integrity, of these bowl games have taken a huge hit. The importance of these should and will be discussed in the off-season, thanks to the seeds planted by players opting out of their final game.

College football is trending far past it's glory days. We no longer live in a time where players stay all four years and play for the opportunity to compete in the Rose Bowl. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where players announce their schools via Twitter and prioritize their decisions by either a branded swoosh or national television exposure. NCAA football has always been a sport of trends and parody, and if more players take after those who have decided not to play in their bowl games, the game will have dug itself a hole a little too far down the road.

That being said, college football is as thriving as ever. The new playoff system has opened up doors for many different avenues for debate, interest, and most importantly: money. In the grand scheme of things, the effects of players sitting out in minor bowl games will likely have little impact. 

However, similar to what we see in college basketball, the opportunity to live a life-long dream will never be overshadowed, no matter the circumstances. Those five star high school recruits have the same dreams that Fournette and McCaffrey do, and whether you like it or not, these amateur athletes are role models. It's unlikely to see a kid from Alabama decide to skip their game against Washington (May Nick Saban have mercy on your soul, son) but to many players across the nation, who have little to play for and everything to lose by getting hurt, it's a decision that has now been opened more freely. 

NCAA Football has become one of the most successful business' in the sports world. Don't be surprised when the players start making business decisions, too.  

Donnie Druin is an award-winning sports writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin for updates and takes on everything in the realm of sports, or just to criticize him for skipping his last final in fear of hurting his grade.


No comments:

Post a Comment