The Stanford Cardinal put together a solid season that included a five-game winning streak to finish out the regular season. For its efforts, the team was rewarded with a trip to the Sun Bowl to face North Carolina. Preparing to take on one of the premiere passing attacks coming out of the ACC, Stanford will need to do everything it can to keep pace offensively. Unfortunately for the team and its fans, that process will go ahead without star running back Christian McCaffrey.
On Monday, it was announced that McCaffrey decided to”sit out the Hyundai Sun Bowl to focus on his NFL draft preparation.” McCaffrey called the decision tough, but we have to assume it wasn’t that tough for him.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette had made a similar decision to McCaffrey last week, foregoing the Tigers’ Citrus Bowl matchup against Louisville to rest up for the NFL Draft. Fournette at least has an ankle injury he has been nursing as an excuse.”I’m not a quitter at all. I tried to play through the injury as best as I could,” Fournette told USA Today. One would assume he would play in this game if it mattered to him, though.
And that is just the point. For teams that fail to make the College Football Playoff, these other bowl games mean nothing. A win objectively doesn’t mean much for the players who will be leaving school. And the ones who are choosing to leave early have pro workouts and combines, meaning one single exhibition game is going to do nothing to change their fortune. The only outcome that could have any meaning is if a serious injury occurs, a la Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith a year ago.
The downside for players like McCaffrey and Fournette is massive. An injury could mean the difference between millions of dollars. The upside is limited to only a small sense of self- and team-satisfaction at winning another game against a possibly unfamiliar opponent. It hardly adds up.
And yet, you can completely understand why people in the media, coaches, and fans would be upset with players making this selfish decision. They are hurting their teams and their old teammates to only serve their own future desires. That is the definition of selfishness, even if it has completely logical reasoning behind it. McCaffrey may not care about winning the Sun Bowl; Fournette doesn’t care about the Citrus Bowl; but what of their teammates who don’t have NFL futures and want to perform well on this big stage? By sitting out, the backs are definitely hurting their teammates’ chances of playing well and winning.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron defended Fournette’s move, saying the latter was a great teammate with a bright future. If that was the case, why did Fournette play in 2016 at all? The outcomes of the games hardly mattered to his bright future. It could be argued that both he and McCaffrey were actually hurt professionally by their 2016 season performances.