Written by junior offensive lineman Patrick Kliebert
In the past few days, three of the nation’s top running backs made statements that they would be sitting out their teams’ bowl games in order to preserve themselves for the NFL combine and draft. These three players are LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Baylor’s Shock Linwood.
Running back is a very unique position in football. It is immensely valuable in college. Fournette and McCaffrey are unquestionably the best players on their respective teams and Linwood is in that conversation for Baylor. However, in the NFL, specifically when it comes to the draft, running backs have been “devalued” and are rarely taken as high as they used to be (with some exceptions of course).
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that these players would want to do anything in their power to preserve their high draft status. It is so easy to be injured as a running back due to the amount of impacts they take and the cuts they make. These teams are not playing in elite bowl games or in the College Football Playoff. If they were, then we could have a different conversation. The Citrus Bowl, the Sun Bowl and Cactus Bowl are simply not that important in the landscape of college football and are just ways to bring more money in. Teams do not even require a winning record to make bowl games anymore.
Most commentators and pundits are lumping these three players together into the same category, something I believe is disingenuous. McCaffrey and Linwood have been healthy this season, or as healthy as any football player can actually be by the end of the season. Fournette has been nursing a high ankle sprain the entire season. He has only played sparingly this season, which has allowed Derrius Guice to come onto the scene and play well enough to earn first team All-SEC honors. He was advised by his head coach, Ed Orgeron, to sit out the Citrus bowl against Louisville. This was not a unilateral decision by Leonard Fournette. He has been quoted saying that he is only “85-90% healed”. It would be foolish for Fournette to participate in this bowl game. Without being completely healed, the chances that he would further injure his ankle are simply too high to risk playing in this relatively meaningless bowl game. McCaffrey has carried Stanford on his back for the last two seasons and it has surely taken a toll on his body, but he does not have a notable injury like Fournette does.
One thing that I frequently criticize political and sports commentators for is consistency. Politically, if you are going to criticize the left for something, you had better criticize the right for it when they do it. The sports world deserves the same criticism on this issue. Coaches leave programs at the end of the regular season all the time. Tom Herman was all over the news for taking the Texas Longhorns job. He did not coach in Houston’s 34-10 LOSS to San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Where is his criticism? He started the season with the Cougars but left them for greener pastures. Where is his loyalty to his team?
Coaches leaving is considered just part of the business. I am extremely aware of this, having just experienced the majority of my coaching staff leave. It is part of college football. However, the majority of people do not afford the same type of pragmatic thinking to players who decide to do what is in the best interest of their health, their future and in many cases, the futures of their families. Sports fans demand a loyalty and idealism out of college football players that they simply do not expect from coaches, which is simply unfair. Why is it disloyal and wrong for Christian McCaffrey, who has taken 700 carries for Stanford over the last two seasons, to sit out the Sun Bowl to save his body for his career? An injury would almost certainly cost him millions of dollars. We need to think of players in the same pragmatic way that we think about coaches. College football is a business and it is time we treated it like one.