While it’s not unheard of for players to protect their bodies before the combine and pre-draft workouts, the decisions nonetheless riled up some in the college football world who want to see players participate in games rather than protect potential future earnings.
Many others, however, defended the players’ decisions, noting that an injury in a (generally) meaningless bowl game could impact their futures.
One NFL executive issued a strong defence of the players to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, calling coaches “selfish” for demanding players participate in the games, noting an apparent double-standard:
“Put yourself in their shoes, an injury could change the course of the rest of their lives. We’re not talking about a left guard here. We’re talking about a skill (position) player who is a huge target. That’s the reality of it.
“Look at what these coaches are making now. Those guys are making $5 or $6 million a year and they may pressure these kids to play? Look at what these coaches and ADs are doing. It’s OK for them to leave, but it’s not OK for players to think about their futures? For coaches to (be critical), that’s incredibly selfish. Hold on a second here, guy. You pressure these kids to play, and then one of them (suffers a career-altering injury) and it’s, ‘I love you, and you’re a great teammate. Sorry about that.’ And it’s all for some bowl game who no one cares about? That’s a joke. I’m looking at it practically. If it was your son, what are you gonna say? It makes sense.”
As the executive notes, running backs, in the cases of Fournette and McCaffrey, are not in-demand players in the NFL and they’re subject to injuries perhaps more than other players on the field. Should one of them tear an ACL in a bowl game, they could lose millions if their draft stock tumbles (if they get drafted at all).
A bigger problem may be the overall view of these bowl games — many consider them meaningless. Of course, the NCAA makes money off of them, but they have little importance to players and even, to some degree, the schools. If NFL-bound players have little incentive to play in these games, it may be something college football has to look at to reconsider and perhaps raise participation or incentive.