With more players than ever skipping bowl games, it's time to change how we approach them
Fear not. I promise this isn’t a rant about why players are turning their backs on their teammates for skipping bowl games.
This also isn’t about to be some pro-player rant about why everyone with NFL Draft stock should skip the postseason.
So save your angry comments for another argument. My argument is different.
With Will Grier’s announcement Saturday that he’d be sitting out the Camping World Bowl against Syracuse, there are now 12 players skipping bowl games (Yahoo has a running list that I bookmarked right after the bowl matchups were released). In 6 of the 11 bowl games involving an SEC team, at least 1 key player is sitting. That means more than half of the SEC bowl games will be without one of its star players because that’s the world we leave in.
Instead of yelling at college athletes for doing that or saying “it’s overblown” by citing that this is only 12 of thousands of players, let’s take a new approach with bowls.
Unless we’re talking about a Playoff game, let’s assume that any standout upperclassman enters the postseason with a “questionable” tag. In other words, if they were all-conference and/or they’ve been in some mock drafts, they’re a coin flip to play.
We should apply the same school of thought when it comes to future first-round picks deciding whether to come back for their senior seasons. Go in knowing that your own personal entertainment has at least a decent chance to take a hit. Don’t drop that bet on your team — or anyone else’s — until you get the all-clear about standout upperclassmen.
Easy enough, right?
That way, it’s almost like a win if they play. Just ask Mizzou fans about that. When Drew Lock announced that he was playing in the Liberty Bowl, it probably felt like a major victory for the Tigers:
Watch: #Mizzou QB Drew Lock says there was no question in his mind – he's playing in the bowl game.
— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) December 3, 2018
For Lock, this game is important. He came back for his senior season and talked about winning championships. After Mizzou dropped to 0-4 in SEC play, he still talked about winning 9 games and making a bowl game, which is still somehow possible after he fueled a 4-game winning streak to end the regular season.
That’s Lock. Would it have been fair to assume that he was playing just because he said those things, though? No.
Everything changes for draft hopefuls when the regular season ends. Someone can only say, “I’m not worried about the NFL Draft right now” or “my only focus is on winning games” so many times. The question changes once there’s only one game left on the schedule, and the most appealing thing about the game for some is whether the swag bag has a $100 Chick-fil-A gift card or a new Fossil watch.
I’d play in any bowl game for either of those things. That’s me. But I wouldn’t be risking millions.
Perks of a bowl game are different for everyone. Most coaches have bowl incentives in their contracts. Don’t worry. This isn’t a “why players should get a cut of that” rant, either.
For coaches, this new wave of uncertain upperclassmen bowl status does have another perk. With the new redshirt rule that allows players to maintain their year of eligibility if they play in 4 games or fewer — explaining that one to you, Gus Malzahn — coaches can get some true freshmen some big-game experience. A guy like Florida quarterback Emory Jones can see some action and keep his redshirt, as could South Carolina’s Dakereon Joyner.
And last time I checked, there’s nothing wrong with being transparent. If players are holding back or worried about getting hurt because of what it can do to their draft status, that doesn’t really benefit anyone.
What’s a lose-lose for everyone is watching a player announce he’s sitting out a bowl game and then seeing the same narrative that it’s this millennial-driven decision that’s “hurting the integrity of the sport.” So many people — former players especially — are still debating why Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey were wrong to start this new trend.
You know what? I’ve moved past that. It happened. This is the new reality for college football, and you can either adjust your expectations accordingly, or you can waste your breath with unrealistic expectations for that Texas Bowl that you’ll probably only tune into if it’s close.
This is all worth mentioning because this isn’t so much a trend as it is a new way of treating the postseason. Bowl games can still matter for some and not for others. As long as there’s millions of dollars worth of guaranteed money for top NFL prospects and a bloated bowl schedule, players skipping bowl games isn’t fading.
The choice is simple — either live in reality or in denial.
My suggestion? Go with the former.