While I haven’t seen it be nearly as big of an issue this year, and that could easily be because I stay as far away from Facebook as I can, with players skipping bowl games I still get a chuckle out of the fans that still criticize players for being, “selfish” and “not team guys.” I know most people that make those argument are more set in their ways than the sword of Excalibur but for some reason, I enjoy spewing my opinions to a brick wall.
It really is a simple decision. If a college athlete is in any way shape or form being considered for the NFL draft there is really no reason for them to risk injury in a bowl game. Why? Because they have literally everything to lose and nothing to gain. This really isn’t up for debate. It can be proven through what we have already seen in the NFL.
First and foremost, when we hear negative reports come out about players who are sitting out, those are slipped into the media by the teams and institutions themselves. Why? Because these major universities, and coaches, are being evaluated more critically when they get to the highest level, as they should. Naturally, they would want their best players to play in the big games because if a coach or a school wins a national title they can cash out. Coaches who win national titles or that achieve a landmark victory in a certain bowl game use them as selling points for new jobs, colleges will receive millions of free advertising dollars on ESPN and their enrollment will increase as well as their amount of lifelong, crazy fans after winning a national title but what do the players get?
The simple answer many people give is that is an opportunity to compete against the highest level of competition and thus improve their draft stock and potentially make themselves some money, but this is a fallacy. Remember Deshaun Watson when he was at Clemson? He threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns against an Alabama defense that had more than five future NFL players (and not just average players) and he was still the last quarterback taken in the first round behind Mitchell Trubisky who lost in the Sunbowl to a Christian McCaffery-less Stanford team while throwing for 280 yards and two interceptions.
If you can’t improve your draft stock in the bowl games then it also shouldn’t plummet but it does. Remember Jaylon Smith? He is now a starting inside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys but his tale is the precautionary one that should be told to every player that is considering declaring for the draft. Smith played linebacker for Notre Dame in 2016 and was by everyone's assessment a top-5 NFL draft pick. Rather than sit out his bowl game like McCaffery or Leonard Fournette did the same year, he elected to play for a National Championship and in a brutal injury tore both his ACL and his LCL.
Smith dropped from a guaranteed top-10 pick to out of the first round. The No. 4 pick that season was Ezekiel Elliot who signed a deal worth $24,956,341 with $24,506,340 of that guaranteed and a signing bonus of $16,350,066. At the 34th overall pick, Smith signed a deal worth $6,494,970 with $4,421,841 guaranteed and a $2,923,615 signing bonus. The difference between the two? Oh, just a grand total of nearly $52 million.
So, if a player can’t do anything to increase his value but can greatly decrease it, there are plenty of fringe players that get injured in bowl games and never make the league, then who really is the selfish one for trying to pressure players into playing in bowl games? If coaches and universities genuinely cared for these players like their own sons, as they say, they do, their actions and words would be exactly the opposite of how they act now.