There are too many college football bowl games. This isn't really news to many, since the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl doesn't exactly your blood pumping and adrenaline flowing. They are exhibition games that make a little money for a few executives, give out some somewhat cool schwag to the players and give fans one last chance to see their school play before a nine month absence. But not all players are eager to take the field in New Mexico, or Idaho, or Boca Raton for one last hurrah.
LSU's Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey made waves by announcing they'll skip their team's respective bowl games in order to better prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. Is this a growing trend that will soon be "out-of-control"? Do these players now suddenly have character concerns according to anonymous NFL scouts that will affect their draft stock? Are they actually benefiting from skipping their last chance to get on film before April's Draft? Is this just another chance for people to shout their opinions loudly into the ether?
Fournette and McCaffrey have honed into something that the powers-that-be in college football have known for years: the sport is a cold, hard, business. Conferences, coaches, TV networks, etc. have all treated a supposedly "amateur" sport like a business for decades but the wider world scoffs when a player realizes he can make a business decision too. If schools can jump from conference to conference for money, and coaches can jump from school to school for money, then why can't the players who represent these schools and play for these coaches make the same decisions?
Bowl games obviously don't mean what they used to, simply because there are now so many of them. Playing in the Sun Bowl meant a lot more when it was one of say 17 bowl games instead of 40, and in 2016 the only notable aspect of the Sun Bowl is that its on CBS opposed to ESPN. Sure they might not be happy that McCaffrey decided to skip out on the Sun Bowl, as ABC execs will be displeased that Fournette is skipping out on the Citrus Bowl, but the games will go on without both players and those who are most interested in the games (i.e. the fans and gamblers) will watch anyway.
The cavalcade of former players saying they wouldn't skip bowl games are fine in saying that, but they know as well as everyone else that times have changed as the business of both college and pro football have changed. Bowl games mean less (except in the Playoff), NFL players get paid dramatically more, and so if any player feels his business interests are best served by protecting themselves as an investment in their futures, they are making the same decisions as the bowl game executives who picked the team to come to these exotic locales to play a glorified scrimmage in the first place.
As with many "controversial" aspects of college football, some players aren't suiting their best interests by skipping a bowl game, though they're well within their rights to do so. Fournette and McCaffrey are both likely first round picks, with Fournette possibly a top five selection, so it's less likely that NFL teams will need the game film on these players as opposed to lesser known and lesser touted prospects. Baylor's Shock Linwood is skipping the Cactus Bowl to focus on his NFL Draft propsects, but he is not at a McCaffrey/Fournette level and has also been suspended for "attitude issues". Is he serving his own best interests by skipping the game against Boise State? Doesn't seem likely. That does not mean he isn't within his rights to skip the game, but not every player who makes that decision is making the right one.
Other qualms with these decisions, such as the idea that these athletes are denying other students scholarships therefore they should honor them by playing, don't hold water either. Most of the criticism levied towards players who will skip bowl games come from selfish interests, just like what these players are basing their decisions on. If the NCAA found this to be a serious issue (which it's not, especially since many players who leave early come back and finish their education anyway), then they could remedy the problem offering different scholarships, requiring the players to pay back their tuition (because all of them will clearly make enough to pay back the out of control tuition costs...), etc., but none of those solutions seem even remotely viable. Players leaving school early to declare for the Draft in either the NFL or NBA has become a problem the leagues have taken more of an initiative on, not the NCAA.
Will there soon be an epidemic of players with decent NFL draft prospects skipping lower down bowl games to protect themselves from catastrophic injuries and to better prepare for the months ahead? Probably not. Will there be future players who make this decision? Absolutely. And there will be plenty of internet fights and shouting when those decisions are made just like those that are happening now.
Where Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are going, they don't need Bowls. But that isn't true for everyone.