BY Art Thiel 03:08PM 12/19/2016

Thiel: Kudos to McCaffrey for skipping bowl game

Star RB Christian McCaffrey is skipping Stanford’s bowl game so he won’t get hurt in a pointless exercise ahead of the NFL draft. Coaches bail on bowl games all the time; why not players?

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey found the going slow Sept.30 against Washington, gaining 49 yards on 12 carries and 30 yards from five receptions. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

With the college football exhibition season inflicted upon us, and before we get to the only three postseason games that matter, it is a worthy moment to salute Heisman Trophy-caliber RB Christian McCaffrey, who made a business decision Monday to sit out Stanford’s Sun Bowl game against North Carolina. That Stanford education may be worth something, after all.

He recognized that there is nothing for him to gain, nor for the Cardinal team generally — the payouts by most bowls to schools barely cover expenses of the trip, and the game outcome is mostly meaningless  — from a week in the desert chill of El Paso. A junior certain to go high in the NFL draft, McCaffrey tweeted that he has better things to do than risk his neck pointlessly.

Certainly, McCaffrey will face blowback from some quarters where the mythology of bowl games runs thick, but those cesspools will not be populated with either his coach, David Shaw, or many of his teammates.

“We understand that this was a very difficult decision. For three years Christian has not only been a great player, but a great teammate as well,” Shaw said in a statement. “We wish him great success at the next level, as we continue our preparation for the Sun Bowl.”

In fact, these snubs may be the start of a trend. Friday, LSU’s premier running back, Leonard Fournette, said he was skipping the Citrus Bowl against Louisville to prep for the draft.

Both were injured for a time this season. Their agents/parents also probably knew about the tale of Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith in 2015.

In his final game, a meaningless bowl, he was shoved from behind and twisted his knee, tearing his ACL and MCL, plus nerve damage. He was a likely top-five pick who fell, post-surgery, to the Cowboys in the second round. He still earned $4.42 million guaranteed, but played little this season and could have had north of $20 million had he skipped the bowl. His future recovery is still unknown.

From a University of Washington perspective, it is fair to wonder whether premium talents such as WR John Ross and CB Sidney Jones would have stuck around for a bowl outside of the four-team playoff. Since the Huskies are in, and the stakes are high for the national semifinal at the Peach Bowl against Alabama Dec. 31, the players probably had little hesitation in continuing their college careers.

But the mere fact of a playoff system, now in its third season, diminishes even more the already dubious worth of most of the bowls. On the dessert tray, the spectacle of baked Alaska tends to dwarf the after-dinner mint.

For any college player who has been judged worthy of NFL selection in the top five, especially offensive skill players who are most likely to be injured, skipping a bowl game has to be a consideration, now more than ever. Sure, it’s a fun trip, and players don’t want to look selfish abandoning their brothers. But all among them on top-tier college programs have to understand that by now, from an industry perspective, they are chattel.

Winning one for ol’ Siwash is so 20th century. Early 20th century.

As for the ticket-buying public, well, it’s a shame that they lose out on seeing star players. But if the Pac-12 championship game was any indication, the lure of these games beyond the immediate fan bases of each school suggests we are dealing with a small cohort of the disgruntled.

On numerous flights into San Jose, the closest big airport to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Alaska Airlines was giving away two free game tickets to the Washington-Colorado game — two top 10 teams — to every passenger, in hopes of stirring up a crowd on a Friday night in Silicon Valley. Didn’t work. The 71,000-seat park was half full.

Certainly, there can be no complaints about the decisions of McCaffrey and Fournette from coaches and athletics directors. For years, coaches and ADs have hopped from school to school after the end of regular seasons, leaving assistants to take care of speaking at rubber-chicken luncheons given by the host cities to hear themselves complimented for their hospitality by the visitors.

Anyone remember the Washington coach for the Fight Hunger Bowl in 2013?

Marques Tuiasosopo, the quarterback hero of the Huskies’ last Rose Bowl team in 2001, was the assistant Steve Sarkisian left in charge after he dashed from the Huskies to his ill-fated tenure at USC. Tuiasosopo was so honored by the duty that he left his alma mater after the game to join Sark with the Trojans.

Would that the players in college football were accorded such freedom of movement. But at least now, thanks to McCaffrey and Fournette, the best of them have recognized that  receiving the Fight Hunger Bowl watch in their gift swag bags isn’t quite the thrill it once was.

If this shrug becomes trendy in the next few years, wholesale recognition these games are the football equivalent of baseball’s spring training might drain the swamp to a more manageable 25 or so bowls between 6-6 teams. ESPN will be the poorer for it, which only enhances the value proposition.


YourThoughts

  • Bruce McDermott

    So would the same rationale apply in an equally meaningless regular season game, in an instance where nothing could be won (no playoffs, no bowl) but the game itself? Does the rationale apply to super duper underclassmen as well, who could not declare for the draft like this one did?

    • art thiel

      The scholarship terms mandate regular season participation in games and practices. Bowl games aren’t predictable, but in any event, a player leaving for the NFL draft as a junior is giving up his college eligibility anyway, so the scholarship terms become moot.

      Rules stipulate that players cannot make themselves available before their junior seasons. Deadline for draft applicants is Jan. 16, 2017.

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    • Comrade Suge

      Coaches can pull scholarships at any time, works both ways.

      • art thiel

        The threat of litigation has forced the NCAA to guarantee four years, short of misconduct or academic failure.

        • Alti

          What kind of loser beta male stalks a girl on Disqus?? Who is the loser you are talking to that is stalking me? (@duckstream)

      • Alti

        What kind of loser beta male stalks a girl on Disqus?

  • Howard Wells

    Art, after how many decades, you have grown weary of college football? I still enjoy watching every UDub game I can. I couldn’t tell you the players or the coaches but I still get the visceral thrills from each game. The pro “game? ehh, not so much. Different strokes I guess. BTW, every player should do whatever he/she wants. I got no issue with that.

    • art thiel

      I’ve always been weary of the college game’s hypocrisy and corruption. Players should have been paid over the table decades ago.

      You’re entitled, via the cost of your ticket, to get the thrills you prefer.

      • Husky73

        We’re all part of the same hypocrisy, Senator. (Michael Corleone)

        • art thiel

          Leave the gun. Take the cannoli (Clemenza)

          • Husky73

            It’s not personal, Art. It’s business.

          • Wade Gustafson

            Who’s being naive, Kay?

          • Husky73

            What the heck ya mean there, Wade?

          • Wade Gustafson

            This is the business we’ve chosen. (Roth)

  • Husky73

    Stanford fight song: “STANFORD FOR YOU, EACH LOYAL COMRADE BRAVE AND TRUE. WITH MIGHT AND MAIN SING THIS REFRAIN, FOREVER AND FOREVER STANFORD RED.”….EXCEPT WHEN THE NFL COMES CALLING……

    • art thiel

      You believe in fight songs? Do you know where the Dardanelles is without googling?

      • Husky73

        Of course I do (Turkey). I am 65 years old. I know where everything is, including Thiel Road just outside of Lynden, WA.

        • art thiel

          There’s also a Thiel Road near Ephrata. We’re coming to get everyone. We just need direction.

  • dingle

    It’s about time that soon-to-be pros started telling the NCAA to get bent with their stoopid bowl games. Why should they risk health and limb so a few bowl game board bozos can justify their existence?

    A few years ago, I met the Orange Bowl rep at the Pac 12 championship game at Stanford. Sack of hammers comes to mind. No way this guy’s revenue stream should be this easy.

    • art thiel

      It is amazing the amount of piffle, treacle and dreck that can draw big college football money.

      • dingle

        Piffle, Treacle, and Dreck is the law firm handling my divorce.

        Only because I couldn’t get Dewey, Cheetem, and Howe.

        • art thiel

          PTD is in charge of Facebook’s fake news team.

        • Kevin Lynch

          the reason you couldn’t get Dewey, Cheatem and Howe is that the Mariners have options on those guys.

    • 1coolguy

      Stoopid – really?

      • dingle

        Which is the objectionable part: the spelling or the sentiment?

  • MrPrimeMinister

    In regards to the point about the half empty stadium in Santa Clara, the practical step to take would be to have the PAC 12 title game at one of the participants’ home stadium. On a broader point point yes the system we grew up watching is most surely imploding. And that is sort of sad.

    • art thiel

      Imploding is sad? No. It’s overdue.

  • 1coolguy

    I can see a player sitting out if he’s injured, but not otherwise. I would have to see the stats on how many NFL draft eligible players are injured in bowl games – I suspect it is minuscule, but again, I haven’t seen the stats. Jaylon Smith is the only player that comes to mind, so if true, skipping a bowl is like saying ‘the plane might crash, so I’ll drive”.
    Having played, I frankly cannot imagine pimping my teammates, let alone passing up the chance to play.

    • art thiel

      The world has changed three times since you played, and I bet you’re only 35.

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  • Jamo57

    As someone who almost literally grew up in the shadow of the Rose Bowl, it’s tough to hear that the “Grand Daddy of ‘Em All” is basically a meaningless game now. Not equating the Rose Bowl with the Sun Bowl but it also isn’t among the three games that ultimately “matter” this year. And McCaffrey having ‘been there, done that” might have made the same decision if Stanford was in Pasadena again this year.

    I have a friend who is a Michigan State alum, who has experienced the thrill of winning the 100th Rose Bowl and the devastation of losing 38-0 to ‘Bama in the semi-final game last year. Before UW was placed in the Final 4, I asked him in retrospect whether he would have preferred Sparty going back to the Rose Bowl and he said, “No, the playoffs are higher prestige now.” I guess it’s a question only us old guys ask now………

    “ESPN will be the poorer for it, which only enhances the value proposition.” Ah, but there’s always a silver lining. Thanks for that, Art.

    • Husky73

      Us old guys understand what the Rose Bowl meant. It was the grand daddy of em all. It was west coast vs midwest. It was how Jim Owens re-established west coast football as a national power. It was how Don James cemented his legacy. It was Bob Schloredt, Dom McKeta, George Fleming, Warren Moon, Michael Jackson, Napoleon Kaufman, Mario Bailey and Steve Emtman. It was sunshine and sunset over the San Gabriels. It was ALL we aspired to be.

      • art thiel

        The key word in your comment is “was.” Things have changed. Rose is still a big deal, and I’m sure McCaffrey would have played if Stanford was there. But playoffs are clearly a bigger deal.

  • WestCoastBias79

    There are too many bowl games, but the six major bowl games are still big deals even if they’re out of the playoff. They all have sold out stadiums, and in general are big deals. If UW hadn’t made the playoff, once the sting of being another Southern Alaska team to be shafted ebbed, most UW fans would be stoked to go to the Rose Bowl. A mostly empty stadium in El Paso for the Sun Bowl on the other hand…

    If they’re so concerned about this de-legitimizing the bloated system that exists to give 23 cable channels content during the holidays, give sure NFL picks insurance policies.

    • art thiel

      Most of surefire draftees have insurance policies, but they want to play in the NFL, not sit home counting money.

      I don’t think all bowls should die. Just about 80 percent. And there’s only one channel for about 90 percent of the games.

  • notaboomer

    why stop at skipping bowls games and instead just skip football? feed your head instead of bashing it in. think of the kids: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/schooled_in_sports/2016/11/hbos_real_sports_examines_risks_safety_efforts_in_youth_football.html

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    • art thiel

      I swear you must run a tennis or golf academy. No concussion threat there.

      • Kevin Lynch

        No concussions in tennis? Technically, it’s possible. American tennis player James Blake, while chasing a ball to the net, slipped and hit his head on the net post, breaking his neck. Fluke, but it can happen. I once smacked a tennis ball hard into the back of my captain’s bald head. It actually imprinted on his head the ‘W’ of ‘Wilson’, weirdly. But no concussion. As far as I know. But my captain was none too thrilled.

  • Gerald Turner

    Is the ‘weed eater’ bowl in Colorado this year?

    • art thiel

      I thought it was in everyone’s basement/garage/attic.

  • woofer

    There are no doubt valid arguments on both sides of this question but I’m inclined to give McCaffrey the benefit of the doubt because the game is being played in El Paso. It’s where they send old Cougar coaches to die. Nobody should be judged harshly for wanting to escape a trip to El Paso. Also agree that money is corrupting college football; that’s precisely why we sent Mark Emmert to Indianapolis to clean things up.

    • art thiel

      Mark has been exceedingly slow to the task.

      • woofer

        You are far too kind.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Love the combination of dinner mint and minor or “toilet bowl”. Didn’t they used to put mint bars in toilets?