As if college bowl season wasn’t made meaningless enough by the glut of games, giving more than half the nation’s top-tier teams a chance to win college sports’ equivalent of a participation trophy, we have this growing trend: The best players are now skipping the postseason to avoid an injury that could derail their NFL draft hopes.
Last week, Louisiana State running back Leonard Fournette announced he would skip the Tigers’ matchup with Louisville in the Citrus Bowl after being bothered by a nagging ankle injury that limited him to just 843 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in seven games this season. On Monday, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey joined him, revealing he won’t play against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.
McCaffrey also was bothered by an injury this season and missed the Cardinals’ Oct. 15 game against Notre Dame. He announced his intention to declare for the NFL draft earlier this month after shattering Barry Sanders’s FBS record for single-season all-purpose yards and finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting as a junior in 2015. This season, he again led all FBS players with 211.5 all-purpose yards per game.
McCaffrey and Fournette apparently want to avoid the fate suffered by Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament in the Fighting Irish’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State after the 2015 season. Smith, who won the Butkus Award given as the nation’s top linebacker in 2015, saw his draft stock drop in the wake of the injury and wasn’t selected until the third pick in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys. He hasn’t played in 2016, and last week the Cowboys officially placed him on season-ending injured reserve.
In light of Smith’s injury last season, the decisions by Fournette and McCaffrey make perfect sense. And how could anyone blame them, considering that coaches leave their teams before bowl season all the time?
And before you criticize any of these players, put yourself in their shoes: Would you jeopardize a future million-dollar payout to participate in something that, at its very essence, is meaningless? Nah.