TO PLAY, OR NOT TO PLAY

A lot has been made and said of college football players skipping their bowl games this year to heal and prepare for the NFL Draft. Is it bad for college football? Yes. Is it bad for the young men’s college program? Sure. Is it bad for the fans, the bowl games, and their sponsors? Absolutely.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on why it is bad, why they are doing it, why its fair, why its not fair, why is this, and why is that. In this case, as rare as it is to say, it doesn’t really matter what we think as for once it is completely up to the college athletes.

Coaches do this all the time, in fact. It is the time of year where coaches leave their school for somewhere where the grass or the money is greener. Instead of remaining with the school they were with for the 2016 season to prepare for their bowl or playoff games they spend that time transitioning to their new employer. They need to move their families, acclimate to a new culture, build a staff, recruit, and meet returning players. If you are going to be mad at Leonard Fourntette and Christian McCaffrey for skipping their bowl games then be made at Tom Herman too.

Just as coaches have a lot to do to prepare for the next challenge, these collegiate athletes do too as they get ready for the combine and eventually the NFL Draft. The only difference between the coaches and the players not being available for postseason play is that the athletes have not yet received a penny for their efforts on the gridiron yet and this is the first opportunity they have to cash in.

Now that I have established my point that the players should be able to do whatever is best for their career personally I am going to attempt to make a point that skipping their bowl games is not actually what is best for them.

There were well established acquisitions that former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney set this trend in his 2013 season for South Carolina by missing snaps and a game against Kentucky to nurse some nagging injuries. Everyone hated his decision to sit and questioned his heart and commitment. Oklahoma DL Charles Walker left his team in the middle of season this year to prepare for the 2017 draft. Despite missing several weeks prior to his announcement with a concussion the decision came as a shock to Sooner fans. Again, everyone hated his decision and questioned his heart and commitment.

As mentioned earlier, Clowney was still drafted number one overall by the Houston Texans. While it didn’t end up hurting Clowney where it hurts, his pocket, it is important to remember that he was the consensus number 1 overall prospect going into the season and by draft time his stock slipped enough to at least where there was some question that he was the best player of his class. It is yet to be seen, how Charles Walker’s decision to leave Oklahoma’s program will affect where he is drafted, if it affects it at all.

It is also left to be seen if the needle moves for either Fournette or McCaffrey as well. Having the time extra time off allows both backs to get healthy and to get focused on performing well at the combine and their respective pro days. It gives them more time to interview potential agents and prepare for their answers for their own interviews given by the 32 NFL teams. So there are certainly some benefits.

NFL teams trying to build franchises, however, want true football players and fierce competitors. They want players that you would have to drag off the field. They want players that want to play hard for the name on the front of the jersey and play with pride. Teams want an athlete that will run through a wall for their teammates and their coaches no matter what the situation in the game or in the season is.

Another way to put this, if you are a GM of an NFL team, and your team is 7-8 going into week 17 and your job and/or your head coach’s job is on the line, are the guys that you assembled your roster with going to put it all on the line for their team the same way they would week 1. Will these players play tough through injuries in a contract season or will they be more concerned about getting paid big bucks in free agency.

Every NFL team interviews the prospects to gain perspective on what type of young men and competitors they are. I am not directly questioning the commitments and the love of the game of either Fournette or McCaffrey. I fully expect, in fact, both players to have successful NFL careers as I currently have a top 5 grade on Fournette and a top 25 grade on McCaffrey. With that said teams are going to have questions or concerns that neither player will easily be able to address. So again, while there are some benefits for skipping the post-season, both players would be better off suiting up one more time for their schools.

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