Bowl season in college football is a fun time. After weeks and months of conference play, arguing who has the better strength of schedule and who dotted their schedule with cupcakes, we get the chance to see teams from around the country go head-to-head against each other in unique matchups for pride. Pride, not only of their team, but of their conference, too, as they attempt to prove they are superior.
It's a nice change of pace and a great way to end the year. For the sport of football, and for college football in general, it is a welcomed time. Diverse competition always seems to bring out the best. But there's been a recent trend among the players who participate in these games that some people believe is taking away from this time of year, one that is "tainting" one of the best parts of college football.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about star players sitting out their team's final game of the season to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Though it is much more common in underclassmen who declare after the team's final regular season game or conference championship game, whether you're a third-year player or a fifth-year senior, we've seen more and more players not be afraid to skip out on their team's final game of the year during bowl season. Deebo Samuel, Noah Fant, Germaine Pratt, Rashan Gary, Ed Oliver, N'Keal Harry, Justice Hill, Greedy Williams and Kelvin Harmon are a handful of the names that have already declared for the draft and announced they will be sitting out of their team's final game.
This, of course, makes people #MadOnline more and more every year. So I thought I'd politely (or not so politely) dismantle each common stance of why people would be upset at players for doing this.
Mad Online Stance No. 1:
"If they're scared to get hurt in one game, how can I trust them in the NFL?"
One of the main reasons prospects sit out their team's bowl game is to avoid injury. I have to think this trend started more subtly with a player who many have been dealing with a nagging injury all year and didn't want to aggravate it into the draft process, so they just told the coach they really wouldn't be able to go or wouldn't be able to play at full strength. Now we have players who are fully healthy opting to not play.
You know why? Because it only takes on play, one mis-step, one bad angle one unlucky collision to change a life in the worst way forever. 6.5 percent of all high school athletes every play college football, and 1.5 percent of all college football players make it to the NFL. Often that's because of talent, but sometimes it's because of unfortunate injury.
If you are considered a Top 50 prospect, heck, even a Top 100 prospect, your health for the next five months before you're drafted impacts a lot more than just one bowl game, and I can say that with confidence since most of the time the players skipping bowls aren't playing for a national championship.
They aren't "afraid" to get hurt. They've played thousands and thousands of snaps to get to this point. They're being smart.
Mad Online Stance No. 2:
"What kind of a teammate does this make him? I sure wouldn't want that kind of teammate on my team."
Okay. This is the dumbest stance of them all.
First of all, who the hell are to you to tell people what they think of their teammate? You don't think these players all talk? That they aren't all friends? And you don't think all these players don't see someone grinding and working towards the very same thing they are, see them so close to it and respect them achieving the ultimate goal? Being that one percent?
And here's the other thing people who have this stance don't think about. Teammates do not only exist in a locker room. You know who else is a teammate? The mother of former Auburn running back Peyton Barber. Barber left school early because he had to provide for his mother who was homeless. You know who else is a teammate? The daughter of Greedy Williams, and his family around him, who came from a place described with the phrase "not many make it out of here." In an article from NOLA.com, Williams recently went back home, and around his family he was overcome by emotion; he cried. Why? He made it -- for them.
That, I will always celebrate.
This is more than a game to these young men, and teammates go far beyond a locker room. Some of a player's teammates have been there for them long before the guys in their current locker room have. Do they not count? Is their sacrifice just swept under the rug?
How they handle the six months between the end of their regular season and draft night late in the spring can potentially change the lives of them, their kids, their grandkids, their mothers and fathers, their siblings, their friends.
Those are their teammates, too. And they're not letting them down; they're often all they can think about.
Mad Online Stance No. 3:
"Well, if we start letting it be OK to sit out bowl games, why not just sit out the whole year?"
Good! Sit out the whole year! If your talent is identified and solidified enough by the time you're a freshman or a sophomore, if you want to sit the next two years out because the NCAA is dumb then so be it. This hasn't been the case with anyone yet, but if it ever comes to a point where their draft slot won't be that much affected, then sure.
These players don't sit out because they want to be selfish. In fact, the reason they're doing it is often because they're not thinking of themselves at all. With the NCAA set up the way it is; where amateurism is a word used to mask young adults getting what they deserve for the entertainment they provide and the commitment they make, it's about time they gave back some control and put it in the hands of those who deserve it -- the players. These players often leave early because of the bind that is placed upon them when they sign up for college football. It's a three or four year unpaid internship in which worker's compensation or on-the-job insurance doesn't come close to the risk they take. So with one game left in that internship, they get to make the choice, and I'm glad.
And that brings us to the all-encompassing bow to put on all this: It is not your choice.
You get to have an opinion, we all do. I suppose that's both a blessing and a curse. But before you do, try to understand where they're coming from. Try to open up your mind to realize that these young athletes aren't out to get you or ruin your fandom. The reason why is because it's not about you or what you think at all.
You see, almost every one of these stances comes with a theme of selfishness in mind. We think players are selfish one way or the other; towards teammates, towards a school, towards the sport, only wanting money (in a bad way), etc. But in reality, if you have any of these stances towards an athlete just trying to make the best decision for their future, then the only one being selfish here is you.
So if these future NFL players wouldn't miss playing their last game for their university for the world, great. And if they choose sit out in what they believe is the right decision for them and their future, great. This is their choice. They have worked their entire lives to be able to make it.
You should let them and support them.