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To Play or Not to Play – That is the Question

McCaffrey and Fournette
Photo collage: thesportdigest.com

(BEN) Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette are making wise decisions by deciding not to participate in their respective teams’ bowl games.  Their reasoning is solely based on business and their futures in the NFL.  The opportunity is there for both of them to excel at the professional level, and with the NFL scouting combine just over two months away, every day of conditioning and preparation could propel them up the draft boards.  The dream of every young athlete is to one day play at the highest level professionally and earn a living doing what they love.  Millions of dollars are on the line, and playing in a meaningless bowl game that could negatively impact their pro status if an injury occurred would be tragic.  These two players have played with lingering injuries all season long.  Taking time to heal and regain full speed and strength is exactly what they need as they step up to the next level of football.

(Dr. Butler) No Ben, these two players (and Shock Linwood of Baylor) are deserting their team for purely selfish reasons. Instead of the true meaning of being part of a team, “there is no I in team” they are only thinking about me, me, me; and it is a disgrace to athletes everywhere. What does a real athlete do? Ask Ryan Ramczyk, first team All-American left tackle from Wisconsin. Ryan is a first round pick on everyone’s list and needs hip surgery. Guess when he is getting the surgery – AFTER THE BOWL GAME!! That’s what true athletes do – they are there for their team.

(BEN) It is shocking that so many people are coming down hard on these athletes when coaches make similar moves every year.  One recent example features Tom Herman.  Herman coached at the University of Houston for two seasons.  He compiled a 22-4 record and a top ten finish following the 2015 season.  Prior to his team’s bowl game following the 2016 season, he was hired to be the next head coach at the University of Texas.  He immediately stepped away from Houston, leaving a coaching vacancy heading into their showdown with San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl.  Not many blame Coach Herman for his move, and it makes sense why no one is making a fuss.  Having an extra month in his new position to get settled in, begin recruiting trips, and prepare for the next season is a much better plan than game-planning for a pointless bowl at a school he will be leaving once the clock hits 00:00.

(Dr. Butler) What is shocking is that even one person is supporting these selfish so-called athletes who could care less about their teammates and are deserting them before a very important game. I agree that Coach Herman deserted his team and that is disgraceful, but that doesn’t make what these players are doing any less disgraceful. Just because coaches move around and seemingly do not care about the kids they leave behind, the other 100 players on the team are not depending on the coach to rush for 100 yards and three touchdowns to help them win the game. What these players are doing is deserting their friends and teammates – pure and simple.

(BEN) This trend of coaches leaving for other jobs or players sitting out to focus on the NFL is unfortunately a byproduct of a broken bowl system in college football.  There are too many bowl games that feature mediocre programs, and the outcomes mean very little to anyone outside of the fan bases of the participating teams.  Sure, there is a lot of money made by the bowl sponsors and the host site, but many of the schools make very little or no money from the spectacle.  It is a money grab, and the players are left with nothing more than a tote bag full of freebies and a trip that is more memorable than the game itself.

(Dr. Butler) The real issue is, where does it end? LSU, the school deserted by Fournette, is one of those programs that views the season as a failure if they don’t make the four-team playoff. So next year, if they are 5 – 3 and obviously out of the playoffs, is it OK for a senior who everyone views as a first round pick to sit out the last for games of the regular season because they are “meaningless?” When I was playing sports, they always told us, “If they are keeping score, it is NOT meaningless! We all know that in the NFL, the second contract is the big one because the rookie contracts are slotted into a certain salary. So I guess, with the logic of those who support this unsupportable move by these selfish players, it will be perfectly acceptable for Fournette and McCaffrey to sit out the last few games of their first contract if they have been eliminated from the playoffs so they don’t get hurt and lose the opportunity for the big contract – do you see how ridiculous that sounds? But, it is exactly the same thing they are doing now.

(BEN) The solution to the problem is to have games that actually matter at the end of the season.  There would be no excuses for coaches to leave or players to sit out if the games they skipped could potentially lead to a championship or some sort of higher honor.  There is no way potential NFL stars from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, or Washington are going to skip out on a chance to win a national title.  Other games like the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl are normally well-attended and feature high-level teams in games that receive high ratings on television.  The top level of college football should take note of what the FCS level is doing.  A total of 24 teams compete in a postseason tournament where every game matters.  While 24 would be quite a leap, the FBS could easily move to 8 or 16 within the next few years to incentivize coaches and players to stay until the end no matter what lies ahead in the next phase of their careers.  The system is broken, and until it is fixed, high-level athletes will continue to put their future careers ahead of one inconsequential game that could cost them everything.

(Dr. Butler) I agree with Ben, the system is broken and I have gone on record many times that we need to move to at least eight teams in the playoff. That is, however, a completely separate issue. The issue here is we have the system we have and it is unconscionable that people who claim to be “football players” refuse to play football. Fortunately, there are many more Ryan Ramczyks in the world than there are selfish losers like Fournette, McCaffrey, and Linwood.

Mr. Benjamin Billman is a Doctoral Teaching Assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He is a frequent contributor to the Academy’s Sports Talk Program and a huge fan of college football and basketball.

Dr. Stephen L. Butler is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy. He also hosts the Academy’s weekly Sports Talk program and is the Academy’s resident sports junkie.

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