Christian McCaffrey was the reason you planned on watching the 2016 Sun Bowl. Leonard Fournette was the reason you planned on watching the 2016 the Citrus Bowl. Neither are going to play, and it’s fantastic.
Monday morning McCaffrey was the second college football superstar in a week to announce that he would skip his team’s bowl game to focus on his preparation for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Obviously this news alone is a good thing. McCaffrey and Fournette have nothing to gain by playing in their respective bowl games and should absolutely focus on what could potentially be very lucrative careers in professional football. Some will not understand this, and will make the “letting your team down” argument. The absurdity of such take is mind-boggling. While the possibility of losing out on millions of dollars due to injury should end the conversation, it’s also worth noting that players on the level of McCaffrey and Fournette are not as invested in your team as you are. Yes, I know McCaffrey’s dad went to Stanford. Yes, I know Fournette is from Louisiana. They don’t care about winning the bowl game, and they shouldn’t. That fond memory you have of watching the Sugar Bowl when you were 9? They don’t have that. Or if they do, it does not loom as largely in their minds as a gigantic bowl full of money. To argue that they should play is foolish beyond comprehension.
The greater takeaway for the college football fan, however, should be that this is a trend that we will see more frequently in coming seasons. A common complaint among the casual fan is that there exist too many bowl games. This is going to go a long way towards fixing that. That’s to take nothing away from the Stanford and LSU football teams, but unless you are a die hard fan of the Cardinal or Tigers, you’re no longer going to go out of your way to watch those games.
And that is definitely a good thing. The Power Five is now experiencing a little bit of what has been commonplace among Group of Five teams for decades now. Not the players taking off early, of course, but the coaches. Talk to a handful of G5 fans and you’re likely to speak to someone who has had their coach hop to a new job before their team’s bowl game has been played. Ball State fans will remember Brady Hoke’s departure before the 2009 GMAC Bowl. It happens in the P5 too. I get that, it’s just more common for the G5. Don’t @ me.
So while McCaffrey and Fournette blaze a trail for top tier Power Five athletes to reject a ceremonial watch for the honor of skipping out holidays with their families and playing in the Zoosk.com bowl, the G5 can offer a different product. That product is elite MAC or MWC players being showcased on the grand December 19th stage. For better or worse, they need that opportunity to increase their draft stock, should any exist to begin with.
Change will not happen immediately. There’s obviously too much money to be had there, and of course your fictional national championship games will still exist. What we will experience however, is a slow, sad decline of bowls like the Sun and Citrus. It will get worse, decisions like those of surefire draft picks McCaffrey and Fournette will eventually extend to more Power Five football players on the fringe of being picked to play in the NFL. Bowl games will become less relevant every year, and who knows, maybe a MAC team that goes undefeated and beats its opponents by an average of 3 touchdowns a game will get a shot at playing for the national championship. Either way, bowl season as you know it will continue to slowly erode.
And it will be glorious to watch.