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College Football’s Growing Trend: Opting Out of Bowl Games

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Former West Virginia quarerback Will Grier was one of many college football players who opted to skip their team's postseason bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Photo: Nick Wagner / Associated Press

By Dr. Matthew Williams |

From peewee football to Division I Football, coaches continuously preach that the team concept makes everyone successful. Since Jaylon Smith suffered his severe injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, we have seen an increasing trend of college football players electing to skip their bowl game, which does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The prevention of an injury and, more recently, to prepare themselves for the NFL Draft are the frequently stated reasons for many college football players choosing to “skip” the bowl game. The college football players who have declined to participate in their team’s bowl game have created a debate across the nation.

The two tenets of the debate center around the business aspect of the athlete’s decision to skip the bowl game; it is fundamentally a risk versus reward argument. There is a chance of becoming injured, perhaps significantly, and then the possibility of not being picked as high in the NFL draft which would result in a loss of money. Additionally, the extra month away from bowl practice allows for a more personalized training for the upcoming tests for the draft.

The college athlete’s decision to opt out of the bowl game prioritizes a business choice based on his individual need over the contribution and commitment to the team. The choice is an antithesis of being a genuine teammate.

The main issue with college players choosing to skip the bowl game is that it impacts the team; it immediately places the team in a disadvantageous position for the upcoming game. The team as a whole has sacrificed for their success.  Long before the season had commenced, team goals of going undefeated, making the playoffs, being a conference champion, beating the rival team, or becoming bowl eligible were made together and worked toward achieving them, consuming many hours, sweat, and sacrifice. If not for their teammates’ investment, players who choose to skip the bowl game may not be in an advantageous position in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Athletes and their advocates had been quick to previously claim that athletes were only skipping “meaningless second or third tier games,” but in 2019, we witnessed players opting out of New Year’s Day top-tier bowl games. It is only a matter of time before a collegiate football player elects to not play in the national championship game. Then the ultimate team goal will also become a casualty to an individual’s preference to not participate based on loss of potential future earnings.

The only reward for the player to participate in the bowl game is that it will be the last opportunity in a game situation to impress the NFL scouts.

The bowl game, however, provides one remaining chance to suit up with their team and compete for one final agreed upon goal, and fulfill their commitment to their teammates.

Dr. Matthew Williams is an Associate Professor of Sports Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and is an avid NASCAR fan.

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