Leonard Fournette from Louisiana State University and Christian McCaffrey from Stanford are two of the nation’s best collegiate running backs. With the end of the regular season, both of them should be receiving praise for all that they have accomplished. Fournette rushed for 843 yards with eight touchdowns in seven games. McCaffrey rushed for 1,603 yards that was part of his 2,327 all-purpose yards. However, both of these players have been targeted with the words such as selfish, quitter, bad teammate, and unprofessional. Why? Because both of them have chosen to not play in their respective bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft.
Fournette is not receiving as much heat and criticism that McCaffrey is getting, because of a nagging ankle injury. He stated in a press conference that his ankle is about 85 or 90 percent. This is one of the reasons he missed five games during the season. McCaffrey is completely healthy though. Due to the nature of the running back position you can see why an extra game would be costly. No other position in football takes on the heavy beating and pounding on mostly every play. Even in full contact practice, just participating takes its toll on a running back. With concussions being a major issue in football, there have been so many precautions taken to reduce them. An extra game and several practices would increase those risk.
Their decision to sit out the bowl game could be due to last year’s Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith entered last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State as a top-ten NFL draft pick. In the first quarter, he tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) and his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. Smith dropped in the draft to a 34th overall, second round pick to the Dallas Cowboys. He signed a four-year contract worth $4.4 million guaranteed. Leonard Floyd was drafted 9th by the Chicago Bears and received a four-year $15 million guaranteed contract. Ten million dollars is a lot to risk on a meaningless bowl game. And by meaningless, I mean any bowl game not named Peach or Fiesta this year. Those two bowl games are the semifinals for the championship game. All of the other bowl games are good end of the year recognition for the players. Some players need the bowl game to display their talent on a national stage. It increases their draft stock and earning potential. These two guys have more to lose than gain by playing.
At one point will we start holding the coaches accountable for not coaching their bowl games? Many of them leave and accept new jobs, thus leaving the team to be coached by an intern or a coordinator. Even the ones that stay and coach are distracted, because they are heavily recruiting for their new team. If there is no public outrage for the coaches who can go and come as they please, then these young men who are making decisions for themselves and their families shouldn’t be ostracized. Fournette’s daughter, Lyric Jae, was born five weeks premature in January 2015. By his own admission, that is one of the main reasons he is focusing on his future career. McCaffrey’s father, Ed, played 13 seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL. Don’t you think his father has schooled him on what it takes to make it in the NFL and to have longevity in it?
I’m not sure if what Fournette and McCaffrey did will be a trend. They are two exceptional talents that have nothing else to prove on the collegiate stage. There aren’t that many players that can say that, year in and year out. But I do think that those type players will start to take a deeper look into whether or not to play in lower-tier bowl games that are glorified exhibition games. The whole purpose of college is to have a better career in the future. If these kids were going for communications and Turner Broadcasting offered them a job as a sophomore, they would leave immediately. We wouldn’t say, “Wait you didn’t finish your degree.” They chose to go to their respective schools to get a job in the NFL. They now have the ability to do just that without serious injury. So I say, congratulations on being one step closer to your dreams.