Running backs Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Leonard Fournette of LSU will skip their team’s meaningless bowl games to focus on preparing for the NFL draft.
McCaffrey and Fournette are not going to risk flushing millions down the toilet by blowing out a knee in some useless extra game that’s of zero value.
The critics quickly descended, with every corny, clichéd brickbat some variation on “there is no ‘I’ in team,” or, “football is the ultimate team sport.” But when was the last time Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison were on the field at the same time?
One NFL executive said, anonymously, “They are selfish (expletives).” The obscenity used was both vulgar and sexist.
But McCaffrey and Fournette both bounced back and played after missing games with injuries this season. Not exactly the method of selfish expletives.
Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott tweeted, “I would do anything to play one more time with my brothers in that scarlet and gray.”
This is the same Ezekiel Elliott who skipped his final year of eligibility at Ohio State. He passed up a season’s worth of games in that scarlet and gray, and got paid.
The primary solution to this debate is everybody minding their own business.
Stanford is playing in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. LSU is in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. McCaffrey and Fournette have zilch to gain by playing, and their teams have zilch to gain by winning.
Their teammates will experience the same camaraderie without them. Lesser players will enjoy participating in their places. The old men will still make the same money exploiting the young men. Two less young men involved won’t change that.
McCaffrey and Fournette can’t up their stock with a huge game at the Palooka Bowl. Everything the NFL needs to know about their college careers is on tape.
The next step is improving their 40-yard dash, bench press and vertical jump for the NFL combine Feb. 28-March 6 at Indianapolis.
The idea that McCaffrey and Fournette “should” play in their team’s bowl games is about control, and little else.
The purpose of college is to prepare for your career. In the case of McCaffrey and Fournette, that career is football. The path they travel is up to them.
The players at Stanford and LSU have expressed no beef with a teammate pursing his dream, and the riches that accompany. If they do, that’s tough luck.
If a Fortune 500 company wants to hire a 4.0 student, he/she doesn’t stick around to help Blutarsky with one last chemistry exam.
Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith was projected as a top 10 pick in this year’s draft. He played for Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. He suffered a severe knee injury. Smith ended up being drafted in the second round, No. 34 overall.
That injury cost Smith at least $10 million, maybe more.
If their team was involved in the championship playoff, McCaffrey and Fournette would doubtless play. But there’s nothing to be gained and lots of risk if a likely first-round pick plays in any postseason college football game outside that playoff.
The system is flawed. Expand the playoff. Eliminate the meaningless bowl games. But then fewer would profit from college’s football greedy exploitation.
McCaffrey and Fournette shouldn’t necessarily be applauded for their decision.
But everyone should understand.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)