| March 22, 2018

Column: Early senioritis

January 17, 2017

Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette have changed the landscape of college football forever, and they might not even know it.

The two star running backs announced in early December that they would skip their teams’ bowl games and train for the NFL draft. McCaffrey, from Stanford, missed the Sun Bowl against North Carolina. Fournette, from Louisiana State, missed playing in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville.

When looking at these cases individually, it makes sense. At the beginning of the 2016 season, McCaffrey and Fournette were Heisman front-runners. However, injuries and lackluster seasons kept both of their teams from reaching the College Football Playoff (CFP).

Not wanting to damage their bodies for a game with little at stake, both players decided their time would be better spent preparing for the future.

Fournette and McCaffrey had plenty of examples to help with their decisions. Last year, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

Smith was considered a top-five prospect in the upcoming draft. Being picked so high could have earned him a deal upward of $20 million.

However, the devastating injury resulted in Smith plummeting into the second round, where he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Smith signed with the team for $6.5 million and has yet to see the field.

Again, for each of these players, their individual decisions make sense.

However, the danger comes in the precedent it sets for the rest of college football.

Fournette and McCaffrey’s actions speak volumes. By sitting out, they have showed any bowl game that is not one of the New Year’s six is not worth participating in, especially if a player has NFL aspirations.

So where does that leave the rest of the bowl games? More players are already skipping their senior seasons to enter the draft. Now it seems the middle and lower tier bowl games are also falling to the wayside.

With the game becoming filled with stronger and faster athletes, more players may decide playing in a bowl game against a team they’ve never heard of may not be worth it, especially when there could be millions of dollars on the line.

The CFP needs to recognize the danger this poses to the bowl system. While a four-team playoff does seem narrow, it is a step in the right direction in allowing more teams with a realistic shot at a championship.

Louisiana State and Stanford finished in the top 15 at the end of the season. It would have been possible for both teams to compete in a larger playoff system. While the chances of Fournette and McCaffrey deciding to play might also be slim in this situation, it would discourage other players who may be undecided on sitting out.

This might be the only hope for the CFP if it wishes to keep the post-season alive. A recent saturation in bowl games has dropped public interest. A whopping 34 bowl games aired on ESPN this year, not including the playoffs.

With some of these teams posting an uninspiring 6-6 record, no wonder more players are refusing to risk it all by playing in just one more game.

Brandon Hill can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill

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