Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey announced on Monday that in order to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft, he will not join his team to play in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against North Carolina.
“Very tough decision, but I have decided not to play in the Sun Bowl so I can begin my draft prep immediately,” McCaffrey said. He also thanked his teammates for their support.
McCaffrey, who is a junior, is one of the most electrifying players in college football. He finished second in Heisman voting last season, and this year racked up 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s also a skilled receiver out of the backfield, and a dangerous punt returner. According to ESPN’s projections, he’s expected to be a late first-round pick.
McCaffrey’s decision to forego his team’s bowl game marks the second time in the past week that a star running back has made this choice. Last week, LSU star running back Leonard Fournette announced he would do the same.
While fans of Stanford and LSU will assuredly be disappointed to miss their best players in the final game of the season, the move here makes sense. McCaffrey and Fournette are both set to earn millions in the coming months between endorsement deals and their first professional contracts — an injury in a meaningless bowl game (neither team is in the playoff) could put that in jeopardy.
What’s more, coaches that have taken a new job for the upcoming season often leave before the bowl game in order to begin preparations. If the coaches can do this, the players should be able to, too.
There’s a specious argument here that these players are selfishly letting down their teammates by missing their bowl games. The more salient point is that Fournette and McCaffrey are setting a precedent that may ultimately bring down the quality of play in bowl games, as more players headed to the NFL Combine will realise that there’s too much (money) on the line down the road to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, for example.
The best way for the NCAA to combat that is a simple one: pay its players. That way, if a player misses his team’s bowl game so as to avoid injury before the draft (as he probably still would), he would at the very least get fined. That would only be fair.
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