Some of the folks who get paid to talk about college football are currently feeling quite threatened by the realization by those who don’t get paid to play college football that they actually have power. But the decisions of former LSU running back Leonard Fournette (pictured) and former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey to skip their respective bowl games in preparation for the draft possibly is just the tip of the iceberg.
Beyond the fact that other players inevitably will decide to not play in that one final game of their college careers, Fournette and McCaffrey have opened a door that eventually will lead to a player who: (1) has demonstrated skills that will make him a first-round draft pick; but (2) has not yet qualified for the NFL draft to skip the third year after the graduation of his high school class and spend that full season preparing for the draft (and not exposing himself to serious injury by playing football).
The same serious injury that could happen in the bowl game — for example, the serious injury that actually did happen to Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith a year ago — could happen in any game of the season, from the first of the regular season to the last. So if a player is going to sacrifice the final game of his unpaid football career in order to preserve his paid football career, why not sacrifice the full final season of his unpaid football career?
Those who have a clear financial interest in being paid by a certain four-letter network to bloviate about college football and/or major corporations to sit in a tent for a TV commercial that promotes the coverage of bowl games will never understand his because their financial interests prevent them from acknowledging the basic wisdom of the approach, even if deep down they know it.
Surely, they know it. They know that it’s not fair to give players who generate billions in revenue an education they can’t fully pursue and may not even want. They know that these players should make the same business decisions that anyone else would make. They know that the coaches who become offended when a player acts in his own best interests routinely reject and eject players who aren’t deemed to be sufficiently talented to help the coaches earn salaries that are inflated by the fact that the players don’t have to be paid.
They know the current system is inherently corrupt. They know it’s not sustainable. They know major changes to the college football model are inevitable. They know that the people responsible for the sport may eventually be inclined to say “screw it” if they can’t come up with a viable solution.
None of these concerns make it right. The players are and for decades have been exploited, and they have every right to think of themselves. Fournette is doing the right thing, McCaffrey is doing the right thing, and any player who chooses to preserve his health by sitting out one or more college football games in order to preserve his professional interests is doing the right thing.
The game plan seems to consist of delaying the inevitable for as long as possible, by shaming college football players who make business decisions and/or by raising specious arguments, like the idea that Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott should quit playing pro football because he’s underpaid as a rookie.
Prescott has business decisions to make (quitting pro football because he’s not eligible for a new contract for two more years wouldn’t be a good business decision), Fournette has business decisions to make, McCaffrey has business decisions to make. Everyone connected to pro and college football has business decisions to make.
Why? Because pro and college football are billion-dollar businesses, and everyone else associated with those sports routinely make business decisions, too. The fans and the media can call the players selfish, or the fans and the media can realize that, if their sons, brothers, nephews, and/or friends were in the same situation, they’d be urging them to not blindly bend to the will of others but to engage in objective assessments of all relevant factors before making decisions on where to play, when to play, and whether to play.