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Should college players skip bowl games?

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

When the Stanford Cardinal and the LSU Tigers play their respective bowl games in about 10 days, both teams will be without their star running backs. Stanford will be without Christian McCaffrey and LSU will be without Leonard Fournette. The two players, who are a large reason why their teams were successful this season, are not missing the game due to injury but instead are not participating to prevent injury.

McCaffrey and Fournette are projected to be first round draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft. Both players have proven themselves as two of the best prospects in college football and their current draft projections are warranted. Neither player needs to prove themselves in the bowl games and whatever statistics either player would produce in their bowl game would likely have no bearing on draft stock.

The decisions by McCaffery and Fournette have been quite controversial with strong arguments on both sides. To some, McCaffery and Fournette are quitting on their teams and are being selfish. To others, this decision seems like a no-brainer for the two players. Is either side right? Is it okay for a player to sit out bowl games in this situation?

This draft is going to be an interesting case study. Depending on what happens with these two players, it could change the whole outlook of future NFL draftees participating in their team’s bowl games. The side that argues that a player in this situation is right in not playing because the player could get hurt and jeopardize his NFL career is right in that it can happen. Last season, Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith was a projected top 10 draft pick, but tore his ACL and as a result was not drafted until the 2nd round.

The argument comes down to which should be more important, being cautious or staying around and helping out the team that helped get the player to the point where the NFL is a possibility. Regardless of how small the risk of injury for these players are, the will always be the chance something catastrophic can occur. The players are not obligated contractually or any other way by rule to play in the game. Teams cannot force players to play. Obviously the NCAA and these teams would love for McCaffery and Fournette it participate but there is nothing that can be done by them.

However, while there is nothing the NCAA can do, there may be something NFL teams can do to prevent this from happening. While skipping the bowl game will prevent injury from occurring, it may make some teams question a player's loyalty and commitment. Jeff Diamond, a former NFL GM, has written that he as a GM would have concerns about a player if they were to not participate in a bowl game. He thinks that teams may move a player like McCaffery or Fournette down the draft board.

This is where this upcoming draft could be significant. Mock drafts are not extremely accurate and can vary immensely based on the source, but if these two players are drafted around where they are projected, this could convinced many more players in the future to also skip their bowl game. If both or even one of them are drafted below their projections, it could also do the opposite and convince players to play because the risk of dropping in the draft because of commitment issues is greater than injury concern.

Neither side is right or wrong and the players are not breaking any rules doing what they are doing so both arguments are valid. Is it okay for players to not participate in bowl games? It’s unclear. However, what is deemed okay today may not be the case in a few years. If everything works out for McCaffery and Fournette, skipping bowl games could be routine and “okay” in the future. 

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