College Football Players Skipping Bowl Games Another Reason to Discuss Compensation

With some high-profile college football players opting to sit out their team’s bowl games, it opens yet another discussion as to why these players should be compensated beyond scholarships.

Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are two of the most recognizable names in college football, yet fans won’t be seeing either of them play in the respective bowl games for LSU and Stanford.

Both players have already made their decision to leave school for the NFL next season, and have likewise decided that focusing on pre-draft activities (namely, not being injured) is more important than playing in a bowl game which really will not help nor hinder their draft status.

Fournette tweeted that he would be declaring for the NFL draft “after our bowl game” but then later announced he would not play, prompting this tweet in response to those who questioned his dedication to the LSU football team.

So does Fournette owe anything to LSU – the school or the fans?

Football is often referred to as the “ultimate team sport”, and when a player of star caliber willingly sits out a game – whether its believed to be meaningless or not – other members of the team who may be counting on that player are let down.

Are Fournette, McCaffrey and others who may follow their lead being smart or selfish in their actions? Is it possible they’re being both, with their options being limited by what is expected of them?

When looking at the character of a player, It could be viewed that a player is being a “me” person rather than a team player by opting not to join their team in a postseason game, as it shows a lack of concern for the team and his teammates.

Players – both current and former – also weigh in on this narrative, as former Ohio State and current Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott did in on Twitter.

Texas A&M star Myles Garrett hasn’t yet declared for the NFL draft, but made sure his teammates and fans knew he would be a part of the Aggies’ bowl game regardless, saying “I plan to practice today and prepare to play in the bowl game with my teammates,” in a statement.

But for a player looking at high NFL draft status and potential millions on the line (as well as nagging injuries) there is much to risk. What is to be gained, other than from a team standpoint, by playing? Why should it matter? If these bowl games are so meaningless then why play them at all?

The athletic departments will tell you it’s money. Schools get a significant payout for bowl games, and the conferences get their share as well.

Not that the players see any of it.

The Sun Bowl, where Stanford is schedule to pay, will have a combined $4.1 million payout, while LSU’s Citrus Bowl will be paying a combined $4.25 million.

If I were a player and saw those numbers (of which I was receiving essentially zero) it would make me question whether or not to play as well. The risk of injury and receiving nothing as opposed to the stigma of sitting and risking nothing seems to be an easy equation, even if you haven’t finished your core mathematics.

Perhaps this is another opportunity to open up a discussion about compensation for college players. If a player is under contract, and has a potential loss of income or other penalty, the decision to sit isn’t quite as simple.

If fans, coaches and athletic departments want their star players who are leaving for the NFL to finish the season and be a part of the bowl experience, then there has to be something at stake for them not to do it.

Oh sure, if some schools wanted to be petty they could probably rescind scholarship money or housing vouchers for the final term, but how many of these future Sunday millionaires really care about finishing out the school year anyway?

The answer of how players should be compensated monetarily is a complicated one, and the answers aren’t going to be found in this column. But if playing in a scheduled bowl game is part of that compensation, then we might better, more competitive games complete with the players we want to see.

The sponsors will have what they want, with marketable names playing in their beloved bowl games, and the schools will get to showcase the talent one last time.

LSU and Stanford fans are still going to tune in to the Citrus and Sun Bowls, because that’s what the hardcore college fans do for their teams. But one would have to think attendance and ratings on a national level would be higher with Fournette and McCaffrey playing…so make it worth their while to play.