The Fournette/McCaffrey Conundrum


Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette are not ruining college football.  But “Business Decisions” are.

Leonard Fournette sitting out a bowl game isn’t bad for college football.  He could have sat the entire season to preserve his health and longevity at the next level without doing much to compromise his draft status.

Christian McCaffrey sitting out a bowl game isn’t bad for college football.  He is perhaps even more talented than Fournette, if not quite as physically impressive.   Like his LSU counterpart, the WildCaff has nothing left to prove after stellar career at Stanford.

Both guys are first-round NFL talents who have seen just enough bumps and bruises to come to grips with their football mortality, particularly at a position known to chew up and spit out even the most talented prospects.  So while the decision to skip a relatively meaningless bowl game is less than ideal in terms of teammate loyalty, dedication to the program that helped mold you, etc.  It is a wise move.  For Fournette, McCaffrey, and similarly talented players; the very real prospect of millions of dollars and an extra year or two in the NFL is too great to risk for the sake of a few bowl gifts and a pocket full of per-diem cash.  Nobody should fault these young men for weighing risks and making the correct “Business decision” for themselves.   When your business is worth as much as a first round pick, you protect it.  Even at the cost of your team’s best chance for a win.

“Business Decision” is the catch-all phrase we use to justify anything that involves money.  More specifically the pursuit of MORE money.  Mid-Major coach leaves his team and school before a bowl game to get on the recruiting trail at his fancy new Power 5 job? – “Business decision”.  Oklahoma lets a kid who cold-cocks a woman stay on scholarship and on the team?  He’ll sell tickets – “Business Decision”.  Jon L Smith leaves Weber State job to take temporary gig at Arkansas? – “business decision”.  If you don’t appreciate and acknowledge the practicality of these “business decisions”, you are old-fashioned and out-of-touch.

All is fair in the pursuit of MORE.  But where is the limit?  What is the threshold?  I am willing to give a pass to the first-rounders.  But what about the guy who is given a 4th round grade?  Maybe he is not risking millions like Fournette or former ND LB Jaylen Brown if he gets hurt, but why risk even a few hundred thousand?  Why risk a few thousand, period?  We lament the lack of pay for these college athletes, but a $50k signing bonus if you are a late round pick versus the $5k bonus if you are signed undrafted is a big deal for any young person.  That’s the difference between having a car or not.  That’s the difference between helping your parents with a few house payments or not.

When Domo Hatfield tweets that he is 99% sure he won’t play in the bowl game (a tweet later deleted), are we sure that he didn’t say that because he wants to protect his own draft hopes?  I am just speculating here, but his tweet did come shortly after Fournette announced that he would forego LSU’s bowl game.  Should we fault Domo?  He is not all that likely to get drafted at all, but will certainly get a chance as a free agent right?  Not if he gets hurt.  What about Bolles?  Should he play in a meaningless Foster Farms Bowl?  Should Hunter Dimick?  Would you have been mad at Devontae Booker if he decided to sit the rest of his Utah season as soon as he felt the wear and tear begin to accumulate?

How much money must a player be risking before we say it’s okay not to play, and hold up your end of the bargain as a scholarship athlete, fan favorite, and teammate?

More importantly, what will we say when this becomes a trend for players who are sitting out games far more important than the Sun Bowl?  Any reasonable fan has to admit that a Sun Bowl trophy doesn’t mean enough to Stanford, David Shaw, or Christian McCaffery for anyone to judge him harshly for sitting out.  The oversaturation of bowl games means that most of them don’t matter at all.  Come to think of it, you know what else doesn’t matter much compared to an NFL career and millions of dollars?  ANY game in college football.  Ezekiel Elliot is being roasted today for tweeting that he wishes he could play with his Ohio State brothers again. We all know that he decided to go pro instead of having at least 12 more games with them.  But even another national championship at OSU wouldn’t have meant much compared to the year Zeke is having for the Cowboys.  Does a conference championship game mean more than a first round draft position?  Certainly not from a “business decision” standpoint.  Not even a playoff appearance or a national championship game makes sense for a player risking injury in a game as violent and dangerous as college football.  We are trending rapidly toward a point where players are best served to do just enough to establish themselves as pro-talents, and then sit.

So yes, we should accept Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery’s shrewd, logical choices in protecting their earning potential.  Now is a good time to decide where the proverbial line is;  1st round money?  3rd round money?  Any chance to play in the NFL at all?  And how are we going to judge the players who significantly overestimate their value and potential, but make the decision to sit bowl games anyway?  We’ve seen Utah football players skip whole seasons of eligibility based on the idea that they would make good money at the next level.  Steve Savoy, Sealver Siliga, and Joe Kruger jump to mind as examples.  It worked out just fine for one of them.  We should also probably get ready for the day when 4th and 5th rounders are making similar decisions in bowl games.  What if Ed Oliver decides to hang it up at Houston after week six in his junior year regardless of where his team is at in the race for a conference title?  It might seem selfish then, like it does now, but these guys are protecting their right to earn millions.  It’s just a “Business Decision”.

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