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College football fans are seeing a strange trend starting to pop up during the bowl season.
Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Leonard Fournette of LSU, two of the top running back prospects in this year’s draft class, announced that they are going to skip their respective teams’ bowl games in order to focus on the NFL draft process.
Now, there has been talk in the past, with Fournette and current Houston Texans player Jadeveon Clowney, that players who are surefire first-round picks should sit out entire seasons to avoid a costly injury that could hinder their draft status. I always took that as baseless speculation and almost as a joke. Now, however, players are actually doing it, not for a full season, but for the final game of their college careers. I have an issue with that.
My issue is twofold really. First of all, to sit out the game like this is to simply quit on your team. Secondly, the NFL is a job, and every single game should be treated as an interview. To skip a game is to skip an interview.
Teams work together all season to make it to the most prestigious bowls they can. They lift together in the winter, they train in the spring, they condition all summer and practice throughout the fall and in the season to be the most competitive team they can be. Suddenly, when they reach the final game of the year, these players just up and walk away from the team.
When you have a player as talented as McCaffrey or Fournette, they are automatically looked at as leaders, regardless of anything else. The young players come in and see these studs doing great things with their careers and use that as their motivation to get better. When the leader of the team just decides a few weeks out that they are going to sit out of the final game of their career, that shows a lack of concern for the good of the team.
To my second point, players need to think of each step in their football career as a promotion. Everything they did in high school was an audition for a position on a college football team. Likewise, everything they do during their college career is like a job interview for the NFL. When you are a highly-rated draft prospect, skipping the final game of your career is like working your tail off at an entry-level job for a couple of years, only to hide behind your desk and play games on your computer for the last month before interviewing for a position in management.
NFL teams will question this, just as any potential employer should. The league treats the players’ teammates and coaches as job references. Sure, their body of work over the past three or four years has been impressive, however, is their work ethic strong enough to keep up with the demands of playing at an elite level. They will ask the coaches and fellow players how they feel about their teammate leaving them high and dry in the bowl game, against some of the toughest competition they’ve faced all year. If any of those references come back poorly, it can and likely will affect the player’s draft stock.
The NFL is a highly competitive job offer. Less than two percent of all college athletes will make the cut. Players need to make themselves as marketable as possible, both on and off the field. That means they need to limit the amount of red flags that a team can find about them. Players like McCaffrey and Fournette will make it to the league no matter what, I know, but every potential hazard that a team sees can cause them to dig deeper, finding reasons to draft the player later, costing them major money and giving the team less reason to invest in the player’s future success.
I know there is a worry of the injury factor. Players saw Jaylon Smith, a potential top-five draft pick, suffer a terrible knee injury last bowl season that cost him his draft position and a good chunk of change on his paycheck. However, as a former athlete myself, I’m here to remind you that injuries are a hazard of the job. It is acknowledged from day one in your first peewee practice. In any given game, on any given play, you could break your arm or tear a muscle and ruin your entire career. Skipping one game is not going to improve your chances of avoiding the issue that much. Skipping that game does more to promote future athletes playing scared to avoid injuries than anything.
This is a trend that will take off if left without being addressed. We will see more and more players taking not just the bowl game, but other games they feel to be meaningless, off to preserve their draft stock. These players will have all the physical talent in the world and a good on-field resume, however, they won’t have what the teams want to see because it was promoted that it was alright to skip games to save themselves.