Bowls about money for all, but not play­ers?

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

The right­eous in­dig­na­tion erupt­ing across seg­ments of the col­lege foot­ball land­scape is laugh­able. How dare Stan­ford’s Chris­tian McCaf­frey and LSU’s Leonard Four­nette de­cide to skip the Sun Bowl and Citrus Bowl, re­spec­tively. What gall that th­ese half­backs put their prepa­ra­tion for pro­fes­sional ca­reers ahead of their “am­a­teur” pur­suits. How can they be so self­ish? Where is the com­mit­ment to their schools and team­mates?

Per­haps the big­gest laugher is po­ten­tial dam­age to bowl games if stars be­gin opt­ing out reg­u­larly. Ci­ties count on those glo­ri­fied ex­hi­bi­tions! Ac­cord­ing to a study com­mis­sioned by the Col­lege Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, the eco­nomic im­pact of bowl games was nearly $1.5 bil­lion in 2015. In­di­vid­ual re­gions net­ted be­tween $12 mil­lion and $93 mil­lion per game — not in­clud­ing rev­enue from lo­cal res­i­dents.

Ev­ery­where you turn, there are coaches, ad­min­is­tra­tors, bowl of­fi­cials, TV ex­ec­u­tives and cor­po­rate spon­sors lament­ing the de­ci­sion by McCaf­frey and Four­nette. Funny how that works, how cho­ruses from the side­lines and lux­ury suites in­sist kids should take the field and

ac­cept the risks.

Folks with in­ter­ests based solely on prin­ci­pal (fi­nan­cial gain), want play­ers to base ac­tions solely on prin­ci­ple (fun­da­men­tal val­ues).

Ex­tolling the virtues of big-time col­lege sports to the un­paid la­bor­ers grows harder and harder as the stacks grow taller and taller. One of my fa­vorite ex­am­ples this week was the Ohio sports colum­nist who said McCaf­frey dis­re­spected the “gift” of a schol­ar­ship to a univer­sity that costs $62,801 to at­tend.

I’m go­ing out on a limb to sug­gest the gift has been paid back 100 times over.

Stan­ford will net over $2 mil­lion just for reach­ing the Sun Bowl this year. Imag­ine the to­tal rev­enue McCaf­frey helped gen­er­ate from ticket sales, con­ces­sions, broad­casts, ad­ver­tis­ing and mer­chan­dise dur­ing his three sea­sons at the school. If Stan­ford adds the ex­penses for food, train­ing and travel to McCaf­frey’s schol­ar­ship, the school still comes out far ahead on its profit and loss state­ment.

Crit­ics worry about slip­pery slopes and evolv­ing cal­cu­lus. Play­ers sit­ting out bowl games to­day could lead to play­ers sit­ting out late-sea­son games to­mor­row.

What if a pro­jected star shuts it down with his team go­ing nowhere at 2-5? What if he sim­ply de­cides he can’t im­prove his sta­tus, or doesn’t want to risk pre-NFL in­jury no mat­ter the stakes, even con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship or play­off games?

Some ob­servers would call those play­ers quit­ters, opportunists who have no re­gard for the other men in their locker room.

If that’s the case, we don’t have to won­der where the be­hav­ior was learned. Coaches leave for the next step in their ca­reer all the time, of­ten be­tween the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale and the bowl game. Ath­letic di­rec­tors, con­cerned about their ap­proval rating more than the team’s feel­ings, fire coaches in mid­sea­son.

Busi­ness de­ci­sions abound in high places, but the play­ing field is strictly for plea­sure?

Try telling that to Jay­lon Smith, the Notre Dame line­backer who shred­ded his knee in last year’s Fi­esta Bowl. He lost more $10 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money when he was drafted in the sec­ond round in­stead of the top-5 or top-10 as pro­jected. He has yet to play in the NFL and his ca­reer is un­cer­tain.

Ac­tu­ally, Smith might not be the best ex­am­ple. He tweeted Mon­day: “Hon­estly. With Ev­ery­thing I’ve been through, If I could go back to Jan. 1st I’d play again. #ClearEyeView”

You can find the same mind­set in rac­ing and other high-risk sports im­bued with ever-present dan­ger. For some, the pas­sion is worth any pain and pun­ish­ment that ac­com­pa­nies it. The fun out­weighs any fu­ture funds they might forgo. That thrill drives folks to climb moun­tains or jump out of air­planes.

I get it. And I un­der­stand why most pro­jected high picks are par­tic­i­pat­ing in bowl games, risks be damned.

What I don’t get is cru­ci­fy­ing the likes of McCaf­frey and Four­nette for de­cid­ing other­wise.

It’s each player’s body, each player’s fu­ture. Not the coach or left tackle. Not the bowl CEO or the school’s top booster. Not the fans in the stands or home on the couch.

If this ul­ti­mately puts a se­vere cramp in the sys­tem, so be it. There’s noth­ing sacro­sanct about the vast ma­jor­ity of post­sea­son games. We’ll just have to make do with­out the Franklin Amer­i­can Mort­gage Mu­sic City Bowl, the Ray­com Me­dia Camel­lia Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poin­set­tia Bowl.

And if the trend spills over to the reg­u­lar sea­son, tra­di­tion-laden bowls or the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off? The pow­ers-that-be just need to de­velop a new plan, a busi­ness model that doesn’t rake in bil­lions but can sur­vive with kids who sim­ply want to play. FCS schools can pro­vide a tu­to­rial.

Col­lege sports are less big busi­ness the fur­ther down you go (Di­vi­sion II, Di­vi­sion III, NAIA, etc.). But I wouldn’t be up­set if play­ers at lower lev­els sat out due to con­cerns about their health and fu­ture earn­ing po­ten­tial. So I cer­tainly don’t have a prob­lem when top stars do like­wise, with mil­lions of dol­lars at stake.

Wind­falls sur­rounded McCaf­frey and Four­nette for three years but they played with­out miss­ing a beat. Now they’re no longer will­ing to turn their backs and folks have a prob­lem with their de­ci­sion? That’s a joke.

The only one big­ger is the NCAA’s no­tion of am­a­teurism: Ev­ery­one else is in it for money but play­ers are in it for love.

Here’s to McCaf­frey and Four­nette laugh­ing all the way to the bank.

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