To bowl or not to bowl?

With the college football bowl season underway, the annual discussion of players skipping the bowl games is coming up again. This is a recent development that started in the last few years. Many people feel players shouldn’t do this, and should finish the season with their teams. I, on the other hand, disagree, and here’s why I support the players who chose not to play in their team’s bowl games.

I have no problem with players opting out of bowl games, because even though as fans, we view this as a game and entertainment, the reality of the matter is that sports are a business. Just like owners will trade or cut players because of money, the players are protecting their financial interests too. These athletes aren’t being paid while they’re playing college football, (NIL aside, but that’s small potatoes compared to NFL money, and another article about that will be coming out in the future) and by playing in a bowl game that serves as nothing more than a consolation game, they’re taking an unnecessary risk to their health. Football is a very violent game, and someone’s career can end at any moment on the field. All it takes is one. Players have been paralyzed or even killed from on-field hits. It’s not a question of player’s desire either. For the teams that make the playoff, no healthy players have yet to opt out, as they still have a chance to accomplish the ultimate team goal in college, which is to win the national championship.

It was thought that NFL teams wouldn’t look too kindly upon it as it would be viewed as the player being selfish and quitting and it would reflect poorly on the player’s character in the NFL, but that’s not the case, as they view this as a one-off to protect their health from playing in a meaningless game. It also hasn’t hurt their draft stock as they still have plenty of game tape to evaluate, one additional game is not going to make or break their stock. There have been plenty of high draft picks who have skipped their team’s bowl game, such as former Ohio State players Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, who sat out the Rose Bowl last year, but were still first round picks this year. Had Ohio State made the playoff last year, there’s no question they would have played, as they, and others who have skipped bowl games, always talked about wanting to win the national championship. Ohio State’s quarterback this year, CJ Stroud, said he probably would have sat out the bowl game had Ohio State not made the playoff, but since they made it, he’s going to play, even though he’s very likely going to be a first-round draft pick next year.

The players have to do what’s best for them. Many of these players come from extreme poverty where sports are their only ticket out. The money from an NFL contract can be life-changing. As I said earlier, they don’t get paid while playing in college, and until last year were unable to make any endorsement money while in school, which even that really isn’t life-changing money. There are loss of value insurance policies the players can take out, but just like the NIL money, it’s small potatoes.

The difference between a top 5 draft pick, and a second round draft pick can be huge. We can go by a recent example to see the difference. Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was set to be a top 5 draft pick in the 2016 draft after winning the Butkus Award in 2015 as the best linebacker in the country. Unfortunately for Smith, he tore his ACL and MCL, and suffered nerve damage in Notre Dame’s bowl game that year. Instead of being a top 5 pick, he ended up being drafted 34th overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Had he been drafted 5th, he would have gotten a contract in the range of $25M, with almost all of it guaranteed. Instead he got a contract of $6M, with only 4.4M guaranteed. So he lost nearly 20M. And because he spent his entire rookie year recovering from an injury that didn’t occur in an NFL game or practice, he was put on the non-football injury list, instead of the injured reserve list. Players on the non-football injury list don’t receive service time towards their pension and retirement benefits, and while Smith was paid, the Cowboys didn’t have to pay him. The player has nothing to gain and everything to lose taking part in a meaningless bowl game. That’s why I will always be on the players side when it comes to opting out of bowl games. I say good for you for knowing your worth and deciding you don’t want to be exploited.

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