One of the more divisive topics in the college football community is bowl game participation — or lack thereof. Even though players have been sitting out bowl games for a multitude of reasons, the trend of NFL prospects skipping out on college bowl games has become a contentious issue. The final act of many decorated college careers, bowl games were once viewed as a cherished last hurrah with teammates. The well-documented risk that comes with playing, however, has prompted several of the 2020 NFL Draft’s prominent entrees to opt out. This piece takes a thought-provoking glance at the pros and cons of skipping bowl games.
The pros of sitting out a college bowl game: Risk of injury
Perhaps the most significant reason players opt out of bowl participation is the fear of injury.
Former Notre Dame linebacker and current Dallas Cowboys star Jaylon Smith is a prime example. In the 2016 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, the junior phenom suffered a debilitating ACL and MCL injury, which included nerve damage. Once a projected top three pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Smith dropped to the second round as teams feared he would never again return to form.
Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt is another classic case of an intriguing young talent that suddenly found his NFL future in limbo. Butt, a projected second or third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl against Florida. He dropped to the fifth round and missed the entirety of his rookie season.
Those are just two examples of players that saw their once-promising draft stock tumble due to an injury in the final game of the college season. As if the possibility of having your rookie season derailed while rehabbing an injury and missing valuable practice time wasn’t enough of a deterrent, the fear of missing out on a more lucrative contract certainly should be.
The pros of sitting out a college bowl game: Extended prep time
An overlooked benefit of skipping bowl games is the extended rest between the end of the college season and the start of training for the NFL Scouting Combine and/or pro days.
As you might imagine, any advantage helps when it comes to potentially affecting draft position. The weeks spent preparing for the bowl game could be understandably be viewed as being better spent resting the body after a grueling season. Since many of the players have accepted invitations to various showcase games — and likely don’t begin training for the Combine until after they’ve concluded — the added rest is invaluable, as many of the players won’t get a break until late in the spring.
The added rest also helps to effectively minimize many of the nagging soft tissue injuries that have become so prevalent among today’s athletes.
The cons of sitting out a college bowl game: Finish what you start
One of the most sacred aspects in all of sports is the long-standing relationships formed amongst teammates. Regardless of the level of play, these are often the moments that are most fondly remembered. When anyone goes through years of success, emotional bouts, or trying times with teammates, it’s only natural that a bond is formed. This exclusive fraternity of men is often referred to as family.
In the ongoing debate on bowl game participation, the harshest criticism generally comes from those who feel the players owe it to their teammates to finish what they started. After all, these bowl game snubs often spent years alongside these teammates, going to battle, only to abandon them when they need them the most.
It can be construed as prioritizing their own future over the success of the team. Or, in essence, turning their backs on their brothers.
The cons of sitting out a college bowl game: The message
While the players’ decisions should be met with support, that simply isn’t always the case.
See, when players commit to a four-year school, they often do so with similar aspirations: Contend for a National Championship or play in a Bowl game. Compete at the highest level. That’s what it’s supposedly all about, after all.
When players skip that final game, a moment they’ve trained and worked tirelessly all season for, it tends to signify that it was never about their initial aspirations. Right or wrong, it gives off the impression that they “quit” on their teammates, acting in a “selfish” manner in search of a hefty NFL pay day. Almost as though they committed with the intent of getting out in three years.
What kind of message does that send?