- - Wednesday, December 21, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The righteous indignation erupting across segments of the college football landscape is laughable.

How dare Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette decide to skip the Sun Bowl and Citrus Bowl, respectively. What gall that these halfbacks put their preparation for professional careers ahead of their “amateur” pursuits. How can they be so selfish? Where is the commitment to their schools and teammates?

Perhaps the biggest laugher is potential damage to bowl games if stars begin opting out regularly. Cities count on those glorified exhibitions! According to a study commissioned by the College Football Association, the economic impact of bowl games was nearly $1.5 billion in 2015. Individual regions netted between $12 million and $93 million per game — not including revenue from local residents.

Everywhere you turn, there are coaches, administrators, bowl officials, TV executives and corporate sponsors lamenting the decision by McCaffrey and Fournette. Funny how that works, how choruses from the sidelines and luxury suites insist kids should take the field and accept the risks.



Folks with interests based solely on principal (financial gain), want players to base actions solely on principle (fundamental values).

Extolling the virtues of big-time college sports to the unpaid laborers grows harder and harder as the stacks grow taller and taller. One of my favorite examples this week was the Ohio sports columnist who said McCaffrey disrespected the “gift” of a scholarship to a university that costs $62,801 to attend.

I’m going out on a limb to suggest the gift has been paid back 100 times over.

Stanford will net over $2 million just for reaching the Sun Bowl this year. Imagine the total revenue McCaffrey helped generate from ticket sales, concessions, broadcasts, advertising and merchandise during his three seasons at the school. If Stanford adds the expenses for food, training and travel to McCaffrey’s scholarship, the school still comes out far ahead on its profit and loss statement.

Critics worry about slippery slopes and evolving calculus. Players sitting out bowl games today could lead to players sitting out late-season games tomorrow.

What if a projected star shuts it down with his team going nowhere at 2-5? What if he simply decides he can’t improve his status, or doesn’t want to risk pre-NFL injury no matter the stakes, even conference championship or playoff games?

Some observers would call those players quitters, opportunists who have no regard for the other men in their locker room.

If that’s the case, we don’t have to wonder where the behavior was learned. Coaches leave for the next step in their career all the time, often between the regular season finale and the bowl game. Athletic directors, concerned about their approval rating more than the team’s feelings, fire coaches in midseason.

Business decisions abound in high places, but the playing field is strictly for pleasure?

Try telling that to Jaylon Smith, the Notre Dame linebacker who shredded his knee in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. He lost more $10 million in guaranteed money when he was drafted in the second round instead of the top-5 or top-10 as projected. He has yet to play in the NFL and his career is uncertain.

Actually, Smith might not be the best example. He tweeted Monday: “Honestly. With Everything I’ve been through, If I could go back to Jan. 1st I’d play again. #ClearEyeView”

You can find the same mindset in racing and other high-risk sports imbued with ever-present danger. For some, the passion is worth any pain and punishment that accompanies it. The fun outweighs any future funds they might forgo. That thrill drives folks to climb mountains or jump out of airplanes.

I get it. And I understand why most projected high picks are participating in bowl games, risks be damned.

What I don’t get is crucifying the likes of McCaffrey and Fournette for deciding otherwise.

It’s each player’s body, each player’s future. Not the coach or left tackle. Not the bowl CEO or the school’s top booster. Not the fans in the stands or home on the couch.

If this ultimately puts a severe cramp in the system, so be it. There’s nothing sacrosanct about the vast majority of postseason games. We’ll just have to make do without the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

And if the trend spills over to the regular season, tradition-laden bowls or the College Football Playoff? The powers-that-be just need to develop a new plan, a business model that doesn’t rake in billions but can survive with kids who simply want to play. FCS schools can provide a tutorial.

College sports are less big business the further down you go (Division II, Division III, NAIA, etc.). But I wouldn’t be upset if players at lower levels sat out due to concerns about their health and future earning potential. So I certainly don’t have a problem when top stars do likewise, with millions of dollars at stake.

Windfalls surrounded McCaffrey and Fournette for three years but they played without missing a beat. Now they’re no longer willing to turn their backs and folks have a problem with their decision? That’s a joke.

The only one bigger is the NCAA’s notion of amateurism: Everyone else is in it for money but players are in it for love.

Here’s to McCaffrey and Fournette laughing all the way to the bank.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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