It seemed like only a matter of time before high level college football players would begin skipping bowl games in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. After all, if you’re playing in some random bowl game on December 21, no one is really paying attention anyway, and chances are it means your season was probably a disappointment.
But that hasn’t stopped people from taking to the airwaves and social media to call out players like Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette, both of whim have announced they will not be participating in their respective team’s bowl games.
Particularly in the cases of McCaffrey and Fournette, it makes almost no sense to risk injury over what is, at the end of the day, more or less an exhibition game. And to question their dedication to their teammates and program is absurd. Unfortunately, one of the most noteworthy people who has come out in criticism of McCaffrey today is our very own Donovan McNabb.
"I don't agree with this. It sets a bad examples for the kids."— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) December 19, 2016
– Donovan McNabb on Christian McCaffrey's decision to sit out the Sun Bowl pic.twitter.com/Gg19pBZp6a
Exactly how does this set a bad example, Donovan?
I’m legitimately curious, because I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind a statement like this. Now, I will admit right up front, I did not listen to McNabb’s full take when he appeared on Mike & Mike this morning. But no matter what he was trying to say, or how he was trying to rationalize it… it’s wrong. Sorry, Donovan. But it is.
Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette are two exceptional football talents, and they’re both on the verge of being high picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Fournette – who has had a history of injuries and played much of this year hurt – could find himself among the first 10 names called on Draft Day. McCaffrey, the do-it-all tailback from Stanford and son of one of my personal favorites from the ’90s, “Easy” Ed McCaffrey, shouldn’t be too far behind.
Sidenote: my kingdom for my beloved Eagles to wind up with Christian McCaffrey, and turning him into an upgraded version of Brian Westbrook.
It’s easy for fans or pundits to sit back and question a kid’s motivations or dedication. And it’s absurd, as well. Look at the daily schedule for any college athlete and come back to me with your questions about how dedicated they are to bettering both themselves, and the program they represent.
Christian McCaffrey has played in 37 games for Stanford in three seasons, putting up nearly 4,000 rushing yards and more than 1,200 receiving yards. He’s scored 31 combined touchdowns from scrimmage, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago. This year was a “down” year for McCaffrey… in which he rushed for 1,596 yards at a clip of 6.3 yards-per-carry (which is higher than his average from that Heisman finalist season), with 13 touchdowns (again, more than he scored on the ground in 2015).
So people are trying to say that his legacy – or Leonard Fournette’s – will somehow be tarnished by skipping a meaningless bowl game? An exhibition game that has virtually zero impact on the season? Yeah, it’s great getting to a bowl game, and it’s nice to be able to compete and win for your school. But tell me right now who won the Sun Bowl (the game that McCaffrey is skipping) in 2014. Who even played in the Sun Bowl that year, or last year, for that matter.
Unless you’re a fan of one of the teams that did, or just an obsessive football fan in general who watches every second of every game you can get before your eyeballs, I’m assuming you don’t know. And that’s the point: no one cares. It’s not that big of a deal.
Hell, I’d wager that most coaches – particularly the ones playing in lower tier bowl games – would tell you that the extra practices are vastly more important to them than the game itself.
So is playing in the Sun Bowl and risking a catastrophic injury really worth it for Christian McCaffrey? Is Leonard Fournette skipping the Citrus Bowl so that he can get back to 100% health in time for the NFL Draft Combine really a bad thing?
Obviously, it’s different when you’re a fan of Stanford, or of LSU, or of any school that’s about to see a star player follow in McCaffrey’s and Fournette’s footsteps.
But hell, let’s look within the Syracuse fanbase. Even this year, I saw fans suggesting that Dino Babers should shut down Eric Dungey before he actually got hurt, since the odds of even getting to a bowl were slim anyway, so they wanted to look ahead to next season.
I’m guessing this happens with other fanbases, as well. Why is it alright for fans to want to protect the futures of their teams by sitting players so that they won’t get injured, but the moment a star player himself decides that it’s in his best interest to sit out and avoid injury, securing his future (which is a multi-million dollar payday, by the way), we’ve got the dopey talking heads in sports media talking about what an insult to the game of football it is?
In fairness, not every pundit has been railing against McCaffrey and Fournette. Some recognize the fact that it’s 1) completely rational and understandable, and 2) the wave of the future in college football.
It all starts with understanding what the bowl season really is, of course. The people who take issue with what McCaffrey and Fournette are doing are the ones who think that every bowl game is important. That’s just completely false. Unless you’re in the final four, and still contending for a national championship, your bowl game doesn’t matter. You can dress it up however you like, and obviously there are certain bowl games with more prestige that feel important, but they simply aren’t, outside of maybe climbing a notch or two higher in the final top 25 and getting some bragging rights.
Now, I fully admit that when Syracuse gets back to a bowl game, I’ll be disappointed if one of our star players decides to sit out in order to protect his future. But I’ll also be 100% ready to own the fact that I’m disappointed for selfish reasons, and I’ll understand that for me, it’s just something I have a rooting interest in. For the player, it’s his life.
And at the end of the day, it’s Christian McCaffrey’s life, and it’s Leonard Fournette’s life. So how dare they try to protect and secure their futures, right?