Higdon has opted to skip the Peach Bowl. [Patrick Barron]

This Week's Obsession: Skipping the Bowl Comment Count

Seth December 20th, 2018 at 10:12 AM

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Nick's Question:

Michigan will be without Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, and Karan Higdon for the Peach Bowl. What should be done (besides the obvious) and what do you think will be done?

Brian: What's the obvious?

Seth: Pay the players.

Brian: Okay and what else could possibly give the NCAA leverage in these situations?

Seth: Short of voiding their scholarships pretty much nothing.

Brian: I don't think there are even scholarships to void in these situations. Most guys headed for the draft leave school to do full-time prep.

The Mathlete: The leverage here is on the games becoming meaningful, which means the solution to this problem is...expand the playoff.

Brian: One thing that's totally crazy is that two years ago Danny Kanell was coming up with insane conspiracy theories about Jabrill Peppers skipping the bowl game by faking an injury and the next NY6 bowl Michigan plays in is going to be skipped by anyone the NFL might take in the mid-rounds.

And everyone's like "yup!"

Seth: Expanding the playoff changes things for a few teams. They would have to go back to when they do have leverage. Start with the new freshman class and a new rider to their letters-of-intent: If you leave your team early you owe your school the cost of all of your schooling. Schools obviously could forgive that.

To be clear I am not advocating this.

The Mathlete: Would schools ever enforce that?

Brian: There is absolutely no way that would fly in the current environment where trying to restrict a transfer to a team you're going to play causes vast outrage. Public opinion has shifted so hard against the schools that even stuff I'm fine with--restricting transfers from teams you play--is no longer tenable.

The Mathlete: And could you imagine Michigan going to Rashan Gary right now asking for their scholarship money back?

Brian: That would really perk up recruiting.

[After THE JUMP: We don't really have any answers but there are perspectives]


Seth: It would be the NCAA. No one school or conference is going to put themselves out there like that, but I don't think it's a stretch to see the NCAA passing something that screws the players to protect their business partners.

The Mathlete: Is there any evidence that this actually affects the interest of the games?

Seth: Anecdotal.

Brian: It's affecting my interest.


Interest level: somebody else playing NCAA 2014 [Upchurch]

Alex: What can the NCAA actually do though?

Alex: Offer money for bowl game participants? For a guy like Rashan Gary, a $10K check is not worth the risk to his draft stock.

Brian: Hypothetically they could if they wanted to blow up all their amateurism arguments in court.

Alex: And “offering money to players” is pretty antithetical to the NCAA’s entire raison d’être. If they’re dead set against offering carrots, all they have is to threaten with sticks.

Brian: But they don't even have any sticks.

Alex: Exactly. All they can do is tut tut about how this is Bad For The Sport and how the Players Are Being Selfish.

Seth: It is a quite perfect rebuke to amateurism.

Adam: They might want to drop that angle and push these games as a preview of your favorite team’s future. It’s like a spring game but against different jerseys and, in our case, probably not snowing or sleeting.

Brian: It is bad for the sport. The exhibitions aren't even glorified anymore.

BiSB: Is there any change here that wouldn’t create more problems than it would solve?

Brian: Other than paying the players, no.

BiSB: Even then. We’re talking about a very narrow group of players in a very narrow set of good-enough-to-care-but-not-playoff bowls.

Seth: They faced this kind of thing the first time in the 1970s after the NFL got its feet under it and the AFL increased the demand for players. Their answer was to get the pro league to make a three-and-done rule.

BiSB: Adding a “bowl bonus” or something like that would create a huge set of headaches and precedent problems for the NCAA. (FTR: pay the players)

Brian: Those are only problems from the perspective of a class of parasitic managers on top of the sport.

BiSB: But even if you go to a full “pay the players” model, is one extra paycheck worth the potential hit to their draft stock?

Brian: Once you have real contracts you can do things with them to ensure participation, and at that point it's not even gross.

Seth: Yeah. For example if an NFL player about to be a free agent on a team eliminated from the playoffs decides to sit out the last week, he gets fined more than the cost of one game.

BiSB: That’s fair. But then it comes back to the schools to enforce those deals. And then “Michigan made John Doe play when he didn’t want to and cost him 80% of his rookie contract” becomes a thing.

Seth: Again, they'd all agree to do it through the NCAA. And it's a big step for a player to go from "I'm going to sit out the last game of my forced amateurism career" to "I'm going to breach a contract." It's a "what would we do if people ignored stop signs?" problem.

BiSB: Wait, is the NCAA going to be the employer in these pay-the-players plans?

Seth: We're getting into the weeds but the more I've thought about it the answer has to be yes, or at least the NCAA will set the standards.

Brian: Uh, no. Jim Harbaugh isn't an NCAA employee. This is orthogonal to our discussion anyway.


Operative theory: The people who sponsor the games are vastly more important to the NCAA than those who play in them. [Adam Glanzman]

Alex: There’s no chance the schools will blow up their whole business model to get like a total of maybe a few dozen players to play in a meaningless exhibition when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Seth: So...there's shaming. When you ask former players about this, they're livid at guys who abandon their teammates.

Alex: They won’t even let an FBI investigation into obvious malfeasance in college hoops recruiting impact that sport in a meaningful way.

Shaming people for looking out for their best interests is bad, imo.

Brian: Yeah, Alex is right. The NCAA can't do anything about this without blowing it all up and so they won't.

Seth: Team sports shame people out of their best interests all the time.

BiSB: I do think this is somewhat a byproduct of the playoff. The more games that “matter,” the less people are going to care about the RedBox bowl.

Alex: They can get “the media” to do the shaming (or “the media” will do the shaming of their own accord) but there’s nothing else they can do.

BiSB: Expanding the playoff to 8 will ensure that those players play, but further who-cares midmajor bowls

Brian: If I was a 22-year-old black man with no money and a kid and some rich middle aged white dude tried to shame me, as a couple of former players did on Rivals, I'd laugh in their face.

Alex: I think it’s also a byproduct of bowls being a weird anachronism that puts an exhibition at the end of the season instead of the beginning.

Seth: Fwiw the middle aged white dude here is Tom Brady.

BiSB: Yeah, like Tom Brady never does stuff that makes him seem somewhat punchable.

(Love you, Tom)

Seth: I have the takes from guys who played with Tom Brady and directly after. The general sentiment from Lloyd Player X is "You are abandoning your teammates and missing out on the last chance of your lifetime to play for a team you chose to be on."


BiSB: How do those guys feel about Jake Butt?

Alex: If I’m someone (say, Rashan Gary) who watched his teammate (say, Jake Butt) significantly harm his earning potential by playing in a game that didn’t matter for anything, and somebody (say, former players) wants to criticize me for sitting out the bowl game, I’d probably want to tell them to fuck off.

Brian: It is way different now because it is obvious to anyone that college football is a relentlessly capitalist enterprise that chooses to screw their players.

Seth: Tragic, and when he came back for a game last year I went to the former players tailgate and guys way more famous than Butt were coming up to shake his hand.

It is. And I bet you the guys who played for Lloyd are not representative of the players even of their age.


Seth: Hi slackbot.

Brian: Back before the revenue explosion it was much easier to argue for The Team The Team The Team without being a big dumb sap who's just funneling more money into Jim Delany's pockets.

Adam: I feel like current players’ sentiment is “secure the bag” based on Instagram comments but I could be wrong

Brian: And in that they are merely following the example of their elders. "Secure the bag" was literally the only thought behind putting Maryland and Rutgers in this league.

slackbot: I think you mean Rutger

Seth: I don't think the sentiment changed overnight and isn't universal. You'll get very different takes from Randy Moss and Charles Woodson.


I forgot that was literally a show.

BiSB: How dare you guys besmirch the sanctity of the Bad Boy Mower Gasparilla Bowl?

Seth: So that's another thing: it's a solid rebuke to the idea of "New Years Six" bowls. If the Peach Bowl was called the Rose Bowl and played in Pasadena, would more guys play?

BiSB: This is Very Important Stuff and in no way one great big racket designed to enrichen the already enrichened.

Alex: It’s almost like the existence of this very profitable system is fundamentally reliant on the exploitation of labor. And it’s almost like whenever labor exercises some semblance agency (sitting out a bowl, transferring, whatever), people get real mad.

Brian: That's the NCAA's theory in court. Literally.

Seth: I'm for paying the players, but I also like college football because I bought into the idea--maybe foolishly--that it's way more fun to watch a student wearing the winged helmet because he wants to than whoever's currently being forced to wear a cartoon lion because that's where his job assigned him. The NCAA started it by taking "The Team, The Team, The Team" to its most cynical extreme, and that has invited the most cynical personal interests to strike at what's best about the sport.

Brian: Yes. The lion's share of my attention goes to college sports because at some level I do buy into all the rah rah rah. But when the thing is run like a company, what do you expect? You don't get to play it both ways.

The Mathlete: And that's the crux of major college sports right. There is a legitimate ideal that on Earth 7 college football never got excessively monetized, the bowls still mattered and there was a realistic claim that forgoing a bowl for an NFL payday was a massive violation of the unwritten contract with team. That is not the reality of this Earth and half-measures to go back don't get you any further back, but typically come at the expense of the players who are making rational decision based on the field before them.

Alex: I have way more of a connection to my alma mater than I could possibly have to any pro sports franchise, but at the same time, I feel like it’s important to be clear-eyed about the industry, how it works, and what it does to people.

They run it like a corporation to squeeze every cent they can out of bodies they see as disposable and then try all that rah rah shit whenever that dynamic is interrogated.

It’s not bad to enjoy watching Michigan play football. It’s bad that Michigan and other schools have colluded to prevent their workers from receiving fair compensation. It’s bad that Dim Jelany makes a bajillion dollars.

Brian: "Those are fleeting, four-year relationships" -Hunter Lochmann

BiSB: #ForTheLoveOfTheGame

Brian: Anyway

  1. it sucks that it makes sense for players to skip the bowl
  2. it is bad for my interest in said bowl
  3. nothing will be done to fix it
  4. let's go Shawne Alston Lawsuit

Seth: I don't have a list of players skipping. Are there schools getting hit worse than Michigan this year? We seem to be right in the sweet spot of "Had the best possible season with the most NFL picks that got in the biggest bowl that is the least interesting."

BiSB: Also, they're playing Florida. Again.

Brian: TBH I'm envious they get to skip playing Florida

BiSB: We could have had Coach O interviews.




December 20th, 2018 at 10:19 AM ^

The redshirt changes seem directly connected with this trend. One of my reasons for interest in bowls is being able to (potentially) get a glimpse of important players for next year.


December 21st, 2018 at 1:43 PM ^

I agree that seeing the up-and-coming players could be more interesting than watching the players that are headed out. Plus, we have a built-in excuse if we lose, haha... our best players didn't play. Still a little surprised that Hill is sitting out though and entering draft. I have a feeling he'll be a late round pick.


December 20th, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

As I've pointed out in these discussions before, the issue is that you're still dealing with insurance companies. When have you known one to willingly shell out money without a fight? What happens more often than not is that the policies end up paying out far less than their stated value.


December 20th, 2018 at 12:35 PM ^

Wrong. That's exactly how his insurance was structured. If player A is considered a second-round lock, the insurance compensates D1 dollars for dropping to the third round, D2 dollars for dropping to the fourth round, etc., in case of injury during the bowl game/season. 

It's all expected values and risk premiums - you know, "econ" stuff. 

Sione For Prez

December 20th, 2018 at 12:56 PM ^

Butt's policy covered a certain amount of money per pick he fell outside of the 2nd round. If you look at his actual proceeds from the insurance policy it was less than the loss of value (guaranteed money, bonus, total salary) of going from the last pick in the 2nd to the 5th or wherever he was drafted. I actually looked into Butt's insurance plus his rookie contract vs the last pick in 2nd round in a previous thread.

Jake received about $500k from his insurance policy. Taylor Moton was the last pick of the 2nd round. He signed a 4 year $4.2 million deal with a $1.2 Million signing bonus ($713k guaranteed on top of signing bonus). Jake signed a 4 year 2.7 Million deal with a $300k signing bonus ($0 additional guaranteed). Even with the insurance policy Jake lost a lot of money in his initial deal.


December 20th, 2018 at 1:20 PM ^

I'm willing to bet that Jake's policy is similar to every other insurance policy out there and he could've negotiated up front for a bigger payout, at the cost of higher premiums.  He chose the level of insurance he was comfortable paying for.

It's literally the same as your car/auto/life insurance.  You pay more, you get higher caps and more coverage.


December 20th, 2018 at 2:49 PM ^

I have never agreed with paying players but players get paid for the senior bowl. If a guy is leaving for the NFL then pay him to play in a bowl game and maybe even cover an insurance policy for him. I think that would be a good way to keep players in these games. 

I don’t look at this game as meaningless or a preview for next year like a spring game. I think it’s important game to try and win and add a trophy to your case and brag about our winning % and great bowl record. Play to win this game 


December 20th, 2018 at 10:23 AM ^

What about significantly boosting player injury insurance?

Pay them if they get injured and the injury hurts their draft stock. Insurance covers the difference between projected draft slot earnings and actual draft position earnings.

For career ending injuries cover the projected career earnings.

Would this cost a bunch of money? Yes. Do the schools and NCAA have said money? I think so. Maybe the bowls have to partially fund this insurance to make their bowl more attractive.

Given that there are few Jake Butt type injuries the odds of payout would be low, but the amounts would be high for a career ending injury.


December 20th, 2018 at 10:36 AM ^

The insurance would have to be for first contract if career ending injury. There is no way you could get "projected NFL career" covered.

Of course this would mean the NFL would need to cooperate. They already give out the 1,2,3 grade by now correct?


And thank you for thinking of a legitimate idea instead of joining in on the incoherent rambling about the state of the evil empire, the NCAA.

Arb lover

December 20th, 2018 at 11:23 AM ^

This is an interesting option. Bowls should cover insurance costs for those players who declare for the draft, by their rating, for that first contract period. They are making money hand over hand off the backs of these players. The insurance coverage for potential loss wouldn't even have to be full cost, 75% loss coverage and most everyone would play. 

That insurance cost would be a drop in the bucket for revenue sharing. The NY6 bowls give $103 million to the 12 teams that participate. The average first round draft pick earns ~$20m on their contract. On average over the past 10  years, there has been fewer than one season ending injury by a player declaring for the draft, in the NY6 bowls (by a long shot). Underwriting would probably be fairly comfortable with an estimated $20m yearly payout on the higher end. You'd probably have a few larger insurance organizations fighting for that contract actually, especially as it could come with free publicity. Let's call it $25m per year for this insurance (insuring an estimated 75% of $20m total loss), and the bid winner gets free mentions three times during each televised game. 

Heck, if you don't play with decent insurance it would probably send up a red flag to nfl franchises. 

The flip side of this: Players who underperform in the draft and allege a bowl-injury (soft muscle type, etc.) It would be a pretty attractive argument to say you were somewhat injured and that's why you were a 6th instead of 2nd round pick. It's going to get messy unless the insurance only pays for clear, season ending injuries, not just guys who are banged up.


December 20th, 2018 at 6:42 PM ^

Insurance, as you laid it out, is a good start.

The next thing should be an agreement between players and schools that provides for reimbursement of some or all of the money that a player has received in the form of a scholarship and coaching  for the year if they decide to sit a game out and are healthy enough to play.

Our Man in Havana

December 20th, 2018 at 10:38 AM ^

They could even print it on the screen that they raise behind the goal posts for kicks:

"Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl Amateur Athlete Indemnification Policy Underwritten by Allstate Insurance, the Good Hands People"

You'd need to raise the goal posts to about 200 feet high to fit all that between them, but that seems doable...


December 20th, 2018 at 11:01 AM ^

An individual can already buy said insurance, customized for himself. (Lloyd’s, eg.) It’d be ridiculously expensive as one-offs, & the young men don’t have the money for it, obviously, but if corporate sponsors had to pony it up, a market would probably develop, and this might become doable, actually


December 20th, 2018 at 12:45 PM ^

I’m not terribly familiar with insurance, but don’t you need a large base of participants to make the economics attractive for all involved? So, if this was made available for all draft eligible college football players and subsidized by a  per player fee that is variable based on the schools history of delivering nfl talent it may work. The incentives align too, because Alabama can afford a 20k per player coverage cost (800k annual) assuming 40 draft eligible players. a small school could not, but shouldn’t have to given the lower likelihood of a payout to an injured draft eligible player. For that school the cost could be 1k per player to get coverage. 

If you are only doing it for top prospects, I imagine the risk/ reward economics wouldn’t work out. It would be like insuring only meth addicts with heart disease and charging them $1mm each for the coverage. 


December 20th, 2018 at 1:35 PM ^

I think this helps but I also think the assumption that it's just about the money is flawed. You've invested a lot of physical effort to get to the level of being athletic enough to play and it's a big deal to be able to go get the payoff from your work. I'd be crushed if I had worked my whole life and instead of making 5 million to play football I'd be getting 5 million and couldn't walk or run until years of physical therapy.


December 20th, 2018 at 3:04 PM ^

Most of these guys skipping would still be drafted to the NFL even with injury. Look at Jaylon Smith and Jake Butt. Those guys had major injuries. Even later round guys are at worst going to get a shot once healthy.

The exception might be combine freaks who know they will boost their projections but how many of those exist? I can only think of Chris Johnson because of his 40 time and im guessing some wrs for their speed too.


December 20th, 2018 at 10:28 AM ^

"Once you have real contracts you can do things with them to ensure participation, and at that point it's not even gross."

True, but it is no longer college athletics, either.

And any argument advocating paying the player is going to run face first into the issue of how much each player gets paid.  You would have to pay everybody, thus, the amount paid to any specific player would not be enough to move their needle.  You can't pay every college athlete, even in just revenue sports, enough money to persuade Gary or Bush to "sign a contract" to play a season that may require them to play in the Peach Bowl.  It is not feasible. 

Indiana Blue

December 20th, 2018 at 11:12 AM ^

Exactly correct.  None of the "BOWL GAMES", even the CFP,  count in the win and loss columns for NCAA standings ... or in the official record.   They are truly exhibition post-season (ala - pre-season) games for entertainment value.   Players that know they will be drafted can choose not to play, while others that may have more to gain by playing will play.

It is pure stupidity to even consider paying players.

Go Blue!


December 20th, 2018 at 3:56 PM ^

i was arguing it for the players to not play.

a major concern is 'team is going to have X number of players sit out and not play at full strength. going to lose bad.' 

so just make it and treat as an exhibition game. sort of like the summer exhibition games european soccer teams play in the US. chance to identify and play future talent.

Our Man in Havana

December 20th, 2018 at 10:29 AM ^

The discussion didn't touch on the possibility of an NCAA-sponsored insurance program. For players contemplating entering the NFL draft, couldn't a panel assign them some sort of likely draft spot (like basketball players can get) and then use that to determine an amount for a catastrophic injury policy? It's far from simple and clean, but it seems a lot easier to implement than some of the other payment mechanisms, utilizes established (insurance, actuarial tables, etc) mechanisms, and might motivate, I dunno, half of the planned bowl-skippers to go ahead and play in the game?

All in all though, some people think that there's way too much fuss being made of this. As soon as the dust settled after The Game (or, at the end of the first quarter, when it was clear that no pass rush would be forthcoming), whatever bowl game Michigan would be playing in ceased to matter much to a lot of people. As you said, a spectacle that we might go to, or watch, to support our alma mater, but ultimately, yawn...  And when it was announced that it would be Florida again...oof!


December 20th, 2018 at 10:30 AM ^

Isn't one of the arguments for the bowls that its a free trip for the players they get to enjoy? Why would we be mad at people for skipping what is billed as a fun vacation time and exhibition game. Its literally meaningless, has always been meaningless, and people are just smarter about it.

Nobody shits on Tom Brady for skipping out on his team when he only plays 3 downs in a pre-season game. Well that is the equivalent, if you are cool with veterans not playing in the pre-season you should have no problem with players sitting out bowls.

College sports are different because players choose where they want to go, students are at the games, and people have a more personal connection to the entity. The reason pro sports are bigger is because for people without a connection to a school don't care about college sports. The love of college sports isn't due to amatuerism.

Our Man in Havana

December 20th, 2018 at 10:34 AM ^

Great point.

Also, In a game that doesn't matter much, seeing next year's potential heir apparent to the position vacated by the sitting starter is a treat too. It builds (hopefully) some anticipation for next year. At the same time, it's a motivator for kids to come to a place where they won't start immediately. Languishing behind a star all season, waiting impatiently for your chance to shine? Well here you go, brother. Go get 'em!



December 20th, 2018 at 10:44 AM ^

I think that the counter to this line of reasoning is more basic and kind of "primitive" than the overall discussion regarding payment, insurance policies, etc., and that is "finish what you start."  10-15 years ago, this would not have been deemed "OK" or "smart."  It would have been deemed quitting.  Has that changed?  Is there something different about this decision now?  Was our perspective wrong then or now?  Can we apply the current imperative universally (not just to this topic) and be satisfied with the outcome?

And I don't think these games are not inherently "meaningless" in a vacuum, history does not support that.  It is the player's attitudes toward these games that are driving that narrative. 


December 20th, 2018 at 11:00 AM ^

"Its literally meaningless, has always been meaningless, and people are just smarter about it. "


Can it change your poll rankings? Yep - not meaningless.

Do people enjoy watching it? Yep - not meaningless.

Are some rich white dudes making a bunch of money off of it? Yep - not meaningless.


You can argue that FOR SOME PLAYERS the bowl game has little meaning.

Arguing that it is "literally meaningless" is a flashing neon sign putting you into the camp that incorrectly uses "literally" as a marker of emphasis, instead of, well, literality.


December 20th, 2018 at 11:27 AM ^

He was making a joke within a larger serious point.  This construct that has been created that these games are "meaningless" is inaccurate.  They have the same amount of "meaning" as any other game that these guys play in.  "Meaning" is relative.  The game obviously "does not mean anything to Higdon," but calling it "meaningless" is an insult to Chase Winovich, who is obviously finding a way to attach plenty of meaning to it.