Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

McCaffrey, Fournette shouldn't be criticized for skipping bowl games

Two of the nation's top college running backs have decided to skip their team's bowl games to, in their words, prepare for the NFL draft.

"Prepare for draft" is Latin for, "Make sure I don't get injured in a meaningless bowl game and potentially damage my career and lose millions of dollars."

LSU's Leonard Fournette announced late last week he would not play in the Citrus Bowl. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey announced Monday, via Twitter, he will not play in the Sun Bowl.

This has prompted a number of strong opinions on both sides of the issue. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, commenting via Twitter: "“While I get players skipping their bowl game-what happened to LOVING the GAME & wanting to compete 1 more time w/ your boys-Disturbing trend ... I’d want to play another game w/ my boys. Are you kidding me? Ask any player from my generation-Should skip whole year if that’s the concern."

Zach and I attack this subject and Matt Ryan's MVP candidacy on the "We Never Played The Game" podcast.

My response: It's easy for Herbstreit to take that position. He never had an NFL career to worry about.

Look, I get the whole, "This is your team" thing. But let's be real: Unless it's a college football playoff game, these bowls have no real meaning. They're exhibitions. Bowl games are, and always have been, meant as a season-ending reward for players. They get a trip and a swag bag. It's a nice few days to spend with family and friends, often over the holidays.

But top college players, those expected to be taken in the first two or three rounds, shouldn't be expected to risk their career and potentially lose millions of dollars by going to . . . the Sun Bowl. Or the Citrus Bowl. Or the Fiesta Bowl.

Consider the case of Jaylon Smith. The former Notre Dame linebacker, the winner of the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, was expected to be a top five pick in last year's draft before suffering a major knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Smith, a junior, nonetheless entered the draft. The Dallas Cowboys took him, but not until the second round, 34th overall.

Smith's contract with Dallas: four years, $6,494,972, with $4,523,682 guaranteed.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was drafted by Jacksonville fifth overall out of Florida State. His contract: four years, $23,351,000, with $22,901,000 guaranteed.

Difference in guaranteed salary: $18,377,318.

Think that was worth the Fiesta Bowl trip? Spare me the camaraderie and "lifetime of memories" speech.

Fournette is considered the top running back in the draft and is a potential top 10 pick. McCaffrey is ranked as the third best back (behind FSU's Dalvin Cook) and is a first- or second-rounder.

I don't know if Fournette and McCaffrey skipping bowl games qualifies as a "trend." But I do believe it will become more common for top NFL prospects, and I'm not sure there's a solution to the problem. Expanding the college football playoff system, as I've suggested, would increase the number of meaningful postseason games and therefore decrease the likelihood of a player skipping them. But that's not going to change the equation for the non-playoff bowl games.

This a hot topic going into the bowl season so I'll expand on it with a full column soon. But what's your opinion of the decisions by Fournette and McCaffrey? Vote in the poll and sound off below.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.