Last December, college coaches across the country made a big fuss over players skipping out on meaningless bowl games in an effort to stay healthy for the NFL.
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette both decided to skip their meaningless bowls (the Sun Bowl and the Citrus Bowl, respectively), and the decision worked out pretty well for both of them, as both were top 10 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Others players who did play in those games haven’t been so lucky. Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith fell out of the first round of the draft despite being considered a top 10 or even top five pick before a brutal bowl game injury, while Michigan’s Jake Butt fell from a likely first round pick to the fifth round after tearing his ACL in a bowl game.
So yes, McCaffrey and Fournette made great decisions.
You know who doesn’t think they made great decisions? Football coaches who profits directly off those players.
Here are Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart talking about the dreaded “slippery slope.”
“Same thing will happen in high school if they make the signing day before the season,” Saban told CBS Sports. “It will take a few years, then some kid will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Notre Dame. I’m not playing my senior year.’
“Then the high school coach will go nuts.”
“It’s a major negative to me because it takes away from the team aspect of the sport,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “… Are we going to get to a point where someone commits to a college and says, ‘I don’t want to play my [high school] senior year for fear of injury?'”
In the crazy, closed-minded worldview of a college football coach, players playing less football that earns them money is bad. But this is not some epidemic that’s going to ruin the game. What if more players decide to sit out so they can ensure they maximize their earning potential—rather than just play to enrich their coach? That’s great! What if an injury prone high school player sits out his senior year so as not to have his scholarship offer dropped at the last second? That’s also great!
The issue at the heart of this for college coaches is that they’re worried they’ll eventually lose complete control over their players, and that they’ll in turn lose some of the revenue that those players should be able to earn for themselves. The fear-mongering is wrong, and if this were any other league or work situation, nobody would fault McCaffrey, Fournette and anyone else in their shoes for making the smart decision.