This Week’s Obsession: Sitting Out the Bowl Comment Count

Seth December 21st, 2016 at 1:58 PM

[Bryon Houlgrave/The Register]

The question (posed by Brian):

Leonard Fournette sitting out the bowl game was one thing, since he might be injured. A hale and hearty Christian McCaffrey getting out of Dodge before the Sun Bowl seems like another. How do we feel about this?


Seth: First let's take as a given that "hale and hearty" for a football player is relative.

Brian: I mean sure. I just kind of... I don't want to be Old Man Newspaper here but I find myself bothered by this despite being pretty woke about player compensation issues.

Ace: I’m totally fine with it. While McCaffrey may not be hurt, he’s carried a hell of a workload. 290 offensive touches this year, 385 last year, plus returns, and his teammates—at least publicly—are in full support.

This isn’t even the Rose Bowl like last year. It’s the Sun Bowl. If his teammates are cool with him missing a glorified exhibition to get ready to actually get paid for his work, I’m not one to argue.

Brian: Is there a line above which you would be bothered? Where is that line?

Ace: If there are stakes.

Brian: Okay, so Sun Bowl can GTFO. Citrus?

Ace: Honestly, I can understand a player of McCaffrey’s caliber skipping any non-playoff appearance.

Brian: Dude! So Stanford's in the Rose again and you're totally fine with him dropping his pants on An American Institution?

Ace: I don’t blame the kid for that. I blame him not getting paid. The incentives are all kinds of messed up. That’s not McCaffrey’s fault. Plus, the Rose Bowl will still have the parade and the bands at halftime and that gorgeous stadium. It’ll be fine.

Seth: There's also a place where you can be disappointed at the guy without treating him like he is violating the Constitution. One of the first things I noticed was the level of vitriol and who it was coming from. When you find yourself on the same side as the guy talking about the "me first" generation you wonder if you're on the right side.

Ace: I’ll admit part of my stance is predicted on always being on the other side of the people screaming “DAMN MILLENNIALS."

Brian: I do kind of like that it puts the NCAA's total lack of leverage on display.
But... I mean... if Peppers peaced out before the Orange Bowl you wouldn't be disappointed?

Ace: I’d be disappointed, sure, but I still wouldn’t get upset at Peppers about it.

Seth: Things like Wilton Speight and Devin Gardner playing against Ohio State, or Robot Chad Henne  vs MSU, are extraordinary because that is a stupid decision they're making on our behalf. If that is the norm then why appreciate it? Gardner sitting out the Copper Bowl was a no-brainer, because it’s the Copper Bowl. Playing in The Game meant something, even at the end of a breakdown season, because it’s The Game.

Brian: I still like to think that there's a romantic THE TEAM THE TEAM THE TEAM heart to this. Ed Reed!

I think it would be shitty to your teammates.

[Hit THE JUMP for shattered dreams of kinds]

Ace: Joaquin said dominate. I love that stuff. But I think it’s important here that these guys have earned their teammates’ support. Like this.

Linwood finishes as the all-time leading rusher in school history with 4,213 yards but is ending his college career a game early after an up-and-down season in which he broke school records but was also suspended for "attitude issues" and lost his starting job.

Brian: That dude is making a suspension look good and probably shouldn't be a part of this conversation.

Ace: That’s being a shitty teammate. McCaffrey has toted the rock 600-some times over the last two years. His teammates understand.

Brian: Some do. I bet there's a number who are pretty irritated but not saying anything. Gotta be some Jim Harbaugh types on every football team.

Ace: While that may be the case, that doesn’t make them the reasonable ones. We’re talking about Jim Harbaugh types here.

To Dad from Kelly is on Amazon.

Seth: So if you want to make a list of guys who are all about The Team that list would have to include Rob Lytle. Here I am holding a book that his son wrote which is basically a letter to say "What the fuck, Dad?"

We need to be cognizant of our biases. I don’t need anything from Christian McCaffrey but some entertainment if I turn on the Sun Bowl this year, but he’s got a lot of people to consider, some unborn, to whom a knee injury right now could substantially alter their lives.

Ace: I just go back to what McCaffrey’s accomplished versus what he could possibly accomplish in this game. Then add in the needless risk of exposing yourself to injury 20-30 times in a glorified exhibition right before you’re set to earn millions.

I think a big reason for the blowback is people don’t want to confront how dangerous football is, because that’s the only way this is a reasonable decision.

But it’s no coincidence these guys are all running backs.

Seth: And how All-or-Nothing your first NFL contract is at that position. One of the insights from Kelly in the above is that players call it the “Not for Long.”

Brian: I like the Jim Harbaugh types, though. I want putting on a winged helmet to mean something, and I like the fact that it's really difficult to imagine anyone on a Harbaugh team doing the same thing. Yes it's dangerous and unfair and McCaffrey is smart to be doing what he's doing. At some level I accept all that because Michigan is a thing to believe in, and I would think less of someone who chooses not to believe in it.

Life Is A Business is a shitty way to live.

cc: previous athletic director

Ace: It’s easier to say that when you're not the one taking 30 hits a game, though. McCaffrey played Life As A Football Player for three years. One business decision seems quite reasonable. Dude’s done damn near everything for that team. Dave Brandon had one mode and one mode only.

Adam: I think that it's possible to believe in the institution you represent and everything that comes with it and also make a business decision. I'd have a problem with guys shutting it down with three games to go in the regular season or something along those lines, but he's looking at what amounts to an exhibition and deciding that the risks outweigh the benefits. As the guy whose job is to take the piece of leather and run with it into the teeth of frighteningly large humans whose sole purpose is to stop him at all costs, I don't mind him sitting this one out.

Ace: I don’t think that diminishes what he’s done for Stanford, either, or what that represents. It diminishes the bowl games, and since those games are maybe the best example of how ludicrous the NCAA system is, I have very little issue with that.

Those guys in horrid pastel blazers can deal.

Seth: And Michigan is special. We are dismayed that we are going to the Orange Bowl right now. My rooting interest here until they change how the players are compensated is why would you want to go to Stanford when you can go somewhere where you wouldn't think about skipping your last game.

Plus McCaffrey personally eviscerated Iowa last year and could have gone to the NFL right then. This exhibition was on borrowed time.

BiSB: One other thing to consider: whether he sits or not, McCaffrey is obviously at a place where he is thinking about the draft way more than the Sun Bowl, and it's hard to blame him. With the amount of touches he's already gotten and his style, there's a really good chance his NFL dream doesn't survive a Jaylon Smith situation. And, like... Sun Bowl. So is it really that much worse for a guy to acknowledge that fact and sit out than it is to have him go out there and play to not get hurt? Does a 2016 Malik McDowell performance really honor his team and his teammates any better? If he isn't in a mental place to give 100%, I'd argue he shouldn't.

Ace: Good point. It’s hard to avoid that mindset when you’re in the process of vetting NFL agents, too.

Brian: In re: how to blow it up. This is my dream: both teams decide to start the game 15 minutes late. This would be easiest in basketball because there are so many fewer players and you can just walk over to the announce team and sit down and explain what and why you're doing it. Someone please do that.

Ace: That would be great. In the interim, I’m enjoying that players are realizing they hold more power than they’ve utilized in the past.

Brian: I'm not totally against McCaffrey's decision. I'm about 35% for, 65% against. Old Man Newspaper has spoken.

Ace: Your fedora is in the mail.

Brian: dammit



December 21st, 2016 at 2:01 PM ^

I feel like if you play on a team high school, college, nfl whatever you have a duty to play every game. If you don't want to play in a bowl game, then you shouldn't come back for that season. Just spend august through april preparing for the nfl draft.


December 21st, 2016 at 3:27 PM ^

I've listened to a lot of conversation about this and the player defenders often state "no one should tell a young man what is in his best interests" or some other straw man argument as no one is telling these players what to do. What detractors are doing is voicing criticism of these players' decision.

Can a player choose not to play? Of course. They are not slaves.

Can a player choose not to play and escape consequence-free?  uhhh... No.

Players would need to understand and include the consequences of this decision.

It would vary by school, but let's look at Michigan. There is a large player alumni base who frequently get post career jobs related to Michigan athletics, and they often appear at alumni events or speaking engagements.

I can tell you there are very few players who I would still support if they pulled this stunt. You choose not to play when you are healthy? Ok, don't come back,....ever.  You are not welcome back on the field 5, 10 years later. You are not welcome to be on TV discussing Michigan football. You are immediately off the team, meaning no use of Michigan football facilities. You can use the CCRB like a regular student. I would also be ok with saying your scholarship ends immediately too, but I am guessing those are pre-set thru the winter semester.

So, yes, I support your right to do this, even though no one is saying you don't have that right, but if you do it, know that you are burning a bridge you may not want to burn.

I know not all the fans would feel like they burned that bridge but I think a lot would.




December 21st, 2016 at 6:53 PM ^

On one hand you are saying that the players are not slaves. In the next paragraph you are saying that there will be consequences. Why? Who decides on the consequence? Is it mentioned explicitly or understood when the scholarship was offered? 

As a student if I don't take a test, the repercusstions are clear. Not going to pass the course, not going to complete the degree and so on so forth. Expectations are clear from the start of the semester. Are the student-athletes bound by any such understanding?

Now that there is a chance that more student-athletes might do this, should the school put this in the offer letter? 


So many questions. 


December 22nd, 2016 at 1:04 PM ^

So you equate consequences as slavery?  

You ask why. Why wouldn't there be consequences?

I'm pretty sure that an athletic scholarship has some legal verbiage to the effect of "athlete will participate in athletics".  You can't just get your scholarship and then not play and expect to keep your scholarship. A better comparitive example would be a student with an academic scholarship, many of which revoke said scholarship if student performance is bad. 



December 21st, 2016 at 2:13 PM ^

Let's be clear here: McCaffrey conducting business to look out for himself here isn't even in the same stratosphere as the way Brandon conducted business at Michigan.


December 21st, 2016 at 2:14 PM ^

I would be so dissapointed if Jabrill decided to skip the Orange bowl.  I could understand it totaly, but it still would be dissapointing to see.  I am glad we are not seeing that.  LOL


December 21st, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

As a fan I don't like it but as a fan I hold a lot of selfish, ridiculous positions. I think they should play year round and have a 4+ round tournament and have the Rose Bowl be the permanent championship game location. But I also live in the real world so I accept that this makes sense for McCaffrey.

On the other hand, if this is a slippery slope that leads to players skipping important regular season games, then I'll be pretty upset because it kinda undermines the integrity of the sport (which I acknowlege is built on a house of cards under amateurism rules anyway). Like they said, Gardner vs. OSU and other memorable moments mean something to the fans and players alike. A late December bowl game between teams that didn't come close to winning their conference - eh, not so much.


December 21st, 2016 at 6:59 PM ^

It's about as slippery as velcro.

A player in his final season skipping a cynically glorified exhibition after shouldering a huge workload in preparation for a professional career, you can bring an understandable case to your future employer.

Skipping arbitrary important games out of the same concern?  What use are you to the NFL with that kind of approach?  You're setting even your chances of getting an UDFA contract on fire.  And if you start skipping games early, the team has the discretion of booting you off the program.  Buh-bye, scholarship.  You can still be a regular student, but on your own dime.  And if you want to just skip games for whatever reasons. . . well, why the hell would you want to be in an FBS football program in the first place?  It's not like the summer two-a-days are the fun part.

This isn't a symptom of a larger problem with players; they overwhelmingly want to to play football.  The takeaway here is that most bowl games are shit; if more players ditching them blows up the racket, I won't mind.


December 21st, 2016 at 7:38 PM ^

Maybe not so much slippery as in snowball.  I can really see more players doing this in coming years, especially the guys who project as first rounders.  This in turn could cause coaches to gameplan the last few games to play more younger players. 

As a fan I would really love to see these players play one last game, but I acknowledge that for them it's mostly downside with little - if anything - to be gained by playing a non-BCS bowl in your last season. 

It seems clear to me that the last vestiges of the old traditional bowl system are going to have to be swept away, because these actions are basically statements to the effect that these bowls have little meaning.  Might as well just extend the playoff bracket at this point and do away with any bowls not a part of it.  Or pay players.  Or both.

The Oracle

December 21st, 2016 at 2:16 PM ^

Not getting paid? How much does a year at Stanford cost? $50,000-$60,000? What is the future value of that Stanford education? McCaffrey most certainly received very valuable benefits in return for agreeing to play football. Thousands of players before him have played in bowl games before going to the NFL. Life itself is risky. Maybe he should just stay indoors until the draft and avoid all sharp objects. Sitting out is weak.


December 21st, 2016 at 3:19 PM ^

Just ask our coach!

But seriously folks, at Stanford people with readily monetizable (if that's even a word) ideas, or should we say employable skills, are encouraged and recruited to leave school early all the time. The Paypal guy even has an entire business model built on poaching these people and denigrating the very idea of a "broad based" University education. 

So, consider the cultures before attempting to compare a player leaving Stanford before the Sun Bowl and a player leaving Michigan before the Rose/Orange/CFP - apples and orange bowls here, folks...

Let's just say a bi-weekly recruiting round-up on whatever blog Stanford has doesn't get tens of thousands of views and several hundred replies!


December 21st, 2016 at 7:41 PM ^

That logic may apply to a player who has little shot at any kind of significant NFL career, but for the McCaffrey's & Shermans of the world, their calculus is different as they stand to make far more with a lucrative NFL contract than whatever benefit a scholarship can provide.  They can pay their own way to finish that degree later when their pro career is over if they choose.


December 21st, 2016 at 7:46 PM ^

One piece of evidence is the 60 Minues segment they did a few years back, which included a short interview with Denard who basically acknowledge that a football athlete was basically a full-time job even offseason.  When I was in school during M's first run in the tournament with Coach Fischer one of the MBB players in my class was gone for weeks.  I'm really not sure what benefit he got from the class being a hands-on lab-type class.


December 21st, 2016 at 3:30 PM ^

these guys get. They are given all types of clothes to wear, basically everything the wear daily was given to them by the school. They get incredible training room meals on a regular basis. They get free tutors and buildings only athletes can study in to help them pass all their classes. They get the best medical treatment any person could imagine getting. They get to workout and train in the nicest buildings that only athletes can use and regular students can't even set foot in, unless they pay to enter.

It's tough to be a D-1 college football player, but they get plenty for playing at a school and compensation should not even come into the discussion, that is what the NFL is for.


December 21st, 2016 at 4:20 PM ^

This is such a silly argument.  In what other scenario do we artificially limit an individual's earning potential (outside of perhaps a salary cap, where the players' union had a say) and say you've earned enough via some ancillary goods and services.  This is the United States, a capitalist society and yet people are unwilling to see that the NCAA model runs completely against every other economic/financial bedrock of our society.  It's simply because we want to protect something that we enjoy.  I can at least point out my cognitive dissonance.  I think players should be paid, but it may be difficult to see the corresponding change.


December 21st, 2016 at 5:36 PM ^

Kevin, YOU don't get to decide what is adequate compensation ("they get plenty"). The market decides, at least it is supposed to.

"that is what the NFL is for": EXACTLY. That is what McCaffrey is doing. If you don't like it, then buy an NFL team and refuse to draft him. But someone WILL pay for his services, as is right and proper.

I feel weird making this argument, because I'm actually no great fan of unfettered capitalism, but it is what it is.

Honk if Ufer M…

December 21st, 2016 at 6:15 PM ^

Oracle, the NFL and the college football pimps conspired, with congressional approval, to restrain the trade of football and basketball players in the interests of everyone on the pimp sides getting rich or making a living, and on the NFL side for keeping the free farm system open for biz. All that in this so called free market economy.

So the question to ask in the limited context you're willing or able to put it in, is what is the value of the pro contract he should have been allowed to sign 3 years ago, would he have only made the $ value of going to Stanford?

The conspiracy allows for everyone else to get their hands on the money that people like McCaffery bring in but he is salary capped at room, board and tuition. A form of payment he might not want, and that much of the big talent hasn't been prepared to take advantage of, and by the same criminal system that's allowing them to be unpaid labor for giant profiteers.

Of course Stanford seems to be one of the few exceptions in that they supposedly only take athletes that meet the same academic standards as the rest of the students, but in general schools are bringing lots of players that don't really get the value of an education because they're not able to, so it's a sham on that front.

If the NCAA and schools actually cared about amateurism then there would be no recruiting, no academic exceptions and no contact between teams, coaches or boosters with anyone that isn't already an enrolled student, and then they can try out for the team.

No merchandising or other profiteering off of students, players, teams.

There would be no charging for tickets, no salaries for anyone in the athletic department, including coaches, over and above room, board and tuition, one can always get value out of continuing education if they chose, and if room and board is paid for you don't need anything else. 

Games would be broadcast for free by the schools, no advertising allowed and volunteer announcers and crew. 

However if you're going to have HUGELY profitable professional sports thinly disguised as good clean amateur fun then pay the players and pay them the vast bulk of the income.


December 21st, 2016 at 5:12 PM ^

This debate in its entirety is basically my same thoughts on the matter, it's complicated, it sucks, it's understandable, i'd be pissed if any michigan player did it.  Hell I'm annoyed McCaffrey is doing it as i love to watch him play and i was looking forward to that game which I will now not be watching.


December 21st, 2016 at 7:52 PM ^

Stanford vs. UNC?  Meh.  Even had he played I probably wouldn't have bothered. 

Not sure about Citrus bowl, even though the conversation/debate mostly centered on McCaffrey for some reason and not Fournette who is doing the same in a game more people are likely to watch.

Mo Better Blues

December 21st, 2016 at 2:17 PM ^

Stuff like this makes me feel one thousand years old and I'm only just starting to gray. Yes, you "have" to play in the bowl game. That's the thing about team sports--you're kinda part of'know?

Or, I guess, you don't "have" to play, and we can all just take things like football far less seriously, stop investing so much emotion and time into the endeavor, stop visiting blogs about the subject and just kinda watch it wither and die. I guess that's cool, too.


December 21st, 2016 at 2:33 PM ^

I'm not surprised you got knee jerk negged Mo - it's more difficult all the time to use sarcasm or exaggeration to prove a point with satire here. You know, unless you remember to /s...

But while you did exaggerate, you actually make a great point - as soon as the players start treating this thing we love as unimportant, it will start to become unimportant. And I personally am not about to become an avid Satruday hiker or Mr. Fix-It when I have been (mostly) Damn well enjoying my Saturdays in the Autumn watching college football for 50 years now!

Damn Millennials

Mo Better Blues

December 21st, 2016 at 4:41 PM ^

By the way -- I don't feel this is all the players' fault. Not by a longshot. It's the fault of Man's Greed, writ large. The players -- like all young folks -- only know that which their elders make a point to teach them.

And we sure as shit teach them to count that cash, don't we? Or actually, we lie to them first and tell them how important it is to put, (in each team's own way), The Team, The Team, The Team, ahead of themselves...unless, of course, money is involved. Then, fuck all that The Team stuff. I dunno. Do whatever you want. Doesn't matter. We're making all this shit up as we go anyway.

We teach them: because other people are fucking you over, you should pay it forward and fuck over your teammates and the fans. What's sauce for the goose, after all. And besides, your teammates aren't as good as you anyway. They might only get grievously injured for something they love. You, on the other hand, might get grievously injured for something you love AND miss out on a huge payday. And *that* puts the whole "get grievously injured" thing into the realm of the unacceptable.

This is all just an ugly but logical conclusion to larger trends that have been going on for a long time and it pisses me off. The Powers That Be supersaturated the goddamn bowl market--the same savages that sold the idea that Rutgers belongs in the B1G--and diminished the whole goddamn institution in the process, with tons of near-.500 teams playing to see who gets a winning record that season and the equivalent of a participation trophy...all while ESPN counts that cash and the bow of the ship sinks almost undetectably farther below the water line.

My issue is: I love college football bowl games and hate "every man for himself" thinking, or as Brian so aptly put it, the "Life Is a Business" model. 

I guess, in the end, I'd be more supportive if players just refused to suit up and play Rutgers as opposed to their bowl games, because THAT is a truly meaningless experience.

And I also wouldn't cry if the student-athletes of America marched in lockstep to Bristol, Connecticut and just straight-up robbed ESPN. Just get back in time to play in the bowl game. Because I need it. I'm an addict. Respect my addiction.  


December 21st, 2016 at 7:57 PM ^

It is a reasonable - certainly traditional - point of view.  I think we're seeing the divide becoming clear between enforced amateur status and the highly paid professional situation.  These players have seen untold millions change hands while they played for the love of the game and whatever scholarship benefits they could realize (or cared to).  They want to see some of those millions for themselves, knowing one bad hit or break could make that money evaporate.  I think we'll see a LOT more players doing this next year.

The times they are a'changin'.  Universities will either be forced to offer more perks or concede the point.  Or try to strong-arm the players.

Honk if Ufer M…

December 21st, 2016 at 6:24 PM ^

Too bad the millionaires and billionaires who collect the money the players bring in, and keep it to themselves, coaches, AD's, sports news sellers, advertisers, merchandisers and the rest don't feel that team spirit with the players when it comes to sharing the money the players bring in and batter their bodies and brains to generate on behalf of everyone else, Mo Better.

Honk if Ufer M…

December 21st, 2016 at 6:37 PM ^

But it IS an NFL minor league, but one that makes as much money as the openly pro league. You're either brainwashed or you just don't think the workers deserve to get paid for their incredibly dangerous and mentally and physically damaging work, Work that generates more money than almost all other work anyone does in this country brings in.

You don't mind the parts of it that are like a minor league or professional league in that everything and everyone else is for sale and for hire. You don't mind them charging and overcharging for tickets, parking, food, and merch.

You don't mind 9 million a year coaches, million a year assistants, millions a year announcers, billions a year leagues, networks and advertisers.

You don't mind that while you pretend to be pure and root for "the school" or "your school," that they all go out head hunting and hire mercenary players to call themselves the name of the school, with almost all of them choosing where to go based on the sports aspects and what they can or hope to get out of that, with actual school being a necessary burden.

Nope, the only part that would bother you was if the exploited money makers got their money.


December 21st, 2016 at 2:18 PM ^

Brian--For the sake of all things, please don't say pretty woke ever again. But yeah, I'm with Ace on this one. If I have the opportunity to create generational wealth for me and my family and there is one exhibition game standing in between that and the possibility of losing that, then it is reasonable to make a business decision like those guys did. Some things are bigger than the romanticism of going to battle with your brothers in the Sun Bowl or Citrus Bowl. It should be on the NCAA to make the games mean something more if it is a problem. 


December 21st, 2016 at 2:20 PM ^

that some of the discomfort you feel with McCaffrey's decision stems from the fact that his family is already wealthy.  A guy who had very little if any family wealth holding himself out for the draft feels very different than a guy who comes from a family already worth millions.  The stakes are different, even if that's just a small variable in the calculus of the decision


December 21st, 2016 at 3:21 PM ^

I don't think we disagree all that much, if at all, Rabbit. I was offering other details that had remained unmentioned that I think may inform some people's opinion on the "selfishness" of the decision. Whether right or wrong, I just happen to think that is part of the calculus for some.


December 21st, 2016 at 2:21 PM ^

My solution:

You skip the 13th game of the year? That's fine. Pay back 1/13th of your scholarship for the semester, and that money gets split up among the walk-ons. If you're such a great NFL prospect, then that money should be a drop in the bucket - but it will mean something to the walk-ons who probably won't make millions of dollars right out of school.