Do you remember which college football team won the Sun Bowl in 2015?
If you’re not a fan of Washington State, Miami (Florida) or a college football junkie, I’m going to guess the answer is no. The Cougars (9-4) knocked off the Hurricanes (8-5) 20-14. The game was played the day after Christmas in ironically snowy conditions in El Paso, Texas. Neither team finished in the AP’s end-of-season Top 25 Poll.
This year’s Sun Bowl — which kicks off at noon today on CBS — pits No. 18 Stanford (9-3) against unranked North Carolina (8-4). Noticeably absent from the game will be Stanford star and Valor Christian alum Christian McCaffrey. The Cardinals’ do-it-all junior running back announced Dec. 19 that he would skip the game to focus on preparing for the NFL draft.
“Very tough decision, but I have decided not to play in the Sun Bowl so I can begin my draft prep immediately,” McCaffrey wrote on Twitter. “Thx to all my teammates for their 100% support — It means a lot to me. Go Cardinal!”
Although he didn’t say it, McCaffrey’s decision was likely made largely because of financial reasons. An injury in a bowl game could cause him to fall in the NFL draft.
Last year, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith shredded his left knee against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. He was projected by many to be a top-5 pick before the injury. But in the draft, he fell to the second round before the Dallas Cowboys selected him 34th. As the MMQB’s Albert Breer pointed out, Smith’s decision to play in the Fiesta Bowl likely cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $19 million in guaranteed money.
The Sun Bowl is an objectively less important game than the Fiesta Bowl. And the financial and physical risks of playing in an end-of-season bowl instead of preparing for the draft were illustrated in painful detail by Smith less than 12 months ago. So it was rather curious when folks on Twitter, several talking heads and some current athletes criticized the decision McCaffrey made.
“so you quit on you teammates in your last game as a collegiate. This trend is sad and undermines everyone else who plays CFB,” Twitter user @mgould tweeted in response to McCaffrey’s announcement.
ESPN radio host Danny Kannell, who played quarterback for Florida State, called it a “selfish decision.” He elaborated on Twitter.
Even Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who skipped his senior season at Ohio State to enter the draft, offered some criticism before walking it back.
There was a surprising amount of criticism of a decision that seemed like common sense. McCaffrey set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards in 2015 on his way to finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting. He’s scored 31 touchdowns in his college career and helped the Cardinals win a Rose Bowl.
McCaffrey’s made the university an untold amount of money by being a very, very good football player. It’s impossible to know exactly how much. But consider that in 2014 The Economist concluded the following:
“Across all sports, college athletic revenues are $10.5 billion a year, more than the NFL generates. Less than 30% of that goes towards scholarships and financial aid for players.”
College athletes like McCaffrey — one of the best college football players in the nation who plays for a Power Five Conference school — generate the most revenue. All they receive in return are academic scholarships to try to earn degrees that usually aren’t as valuable as the degrees regular students try to earn.
McCaffrey has leveraged his college experience into a job that’s going to pay him handsomely. Why risk millions of dollars playing in a game that’s (a) lining other people’s pockets, and (b) is one that most college football fans won’t even remember the outcome of in a year’s time?
Even Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas understands.
“Right away, you get disappointed,” Olivas told The Washington Post. “I understand what he’s trying to do. He’s got to prepare hopefully for his future. There was a little disappointment. I certainly understand what his views are, and we’ll go on with the football game … He’s just looking out for his future. You can’t blame him for that.”
This is a smart business decision. Anyone with a shred of common sense should understand it.
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