Huard: Fournette and McCaffrey are setting precedent for skipping lesser Bowl games
To play or not to play, that is the question.
On Monday, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey announced that he would skip playing in the Sun Bowl, much like fellow junior RB Leonard Fournette, who announced Dec. 16 that he would be skipping LSU’s Citrus Bowl matchup with Louisville. Both players entered as Heisman Trophy candidates, played through injuries and are considered likely first-round picks in a deep stable of running backs for the 2017 NFL Draft.
710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard and Gee Scott viewed the decisions from opposite vantage points. Huard, who starred at quarterback in multiple Bowl games at the University of Washington, said he couldn’t imagine bailing on his team after years of blood, sweat and tears together.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’m torn. In premise, it’s a business decision. As a player, thinking back to all my teammates in college and I would have said “I’m out on against Air Force, I’m out on the Hawaii Bowl. I’m going pro,’” he said. “… I could just not imagine doing that to guys I’ve played with for three, four years.”
Playing in a Bowl comes with high risks and rewards. On the one hand, it’s a chance to showcase NFL-caliber abilities on a national stage for one last hurrah. On the other, there is the potential for catastrophic injury that can cost a player millions of dollars – as seen with RB Willis McGahee in the 2003 National Championship game and Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl, who fell from a likely Top 10 pick to the second round but has yet to play in the NFL.
Scott noted that it’s always easier to tell somebody that they should or should not do something but that, in the end, players always end up looking like the bad guys when they look out for their future. Meanwhile, coaches look out for themselves frequently, Scott noted, such as when Steve Sarkisian left the Huskies for USC prior to UW’s 2013 Bowl game.
“Players, they don’t have as much of the benefit of the doubt,” Scott said. “They are considered to be selfish. It’s no different than in pro football. Most of the time it’s the player that is considered selfish but the team itself, they are exempt from being selfish.”
Scott also took on the topic of money, noting that the winning team in the Sun Bowl will receive more than $2 million. But where does that money go? Though collegiate athletes are not paid, they are given a stipend and receive hundreds of dollars in Bowl apparel, but it’s not much, Scott said.
“Team-first (mindset) never really paid any bills,” he said. “If it’s team first all the time, spread a little bit more of that wealth.”
Huard pointed out that much of that $2 million will go toward expenses – travel and lodging for athletes, families and the band– while the rest goes back to the school’s athletics department, helping to pay for gymnastics, swimming, track and field, etc.
“That doesn’t all of a sudden go into (Stanford head coach) David Shaw’s pocket,” Huard said.
More than anything, Huard sees these decisions as setting a precedent.
“This is where we’re going, by the way. Players are going to look at this and say, ‘Yeah, why the heck do I want to play in the Camellia Bowl? Why do I want to play in the Potato Bowl? You’re right McCaffrey, you’re right, Fournette,’” he said. “There are going to be a lot of guys on the fringe that think they are Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey, just like these hundred underclassmen last year that came out and a bunch of them were not even drafted.”
The hosts discussed the debate with former NFL head coach and player Herm Edwards, who noted that this is a different generation of athletes than 15 or 20 years ago and that he wouldn’t hold this decision against either Fournette or McCaffrey during the draft process.
“If they were playing for a National Championship, do I think they might have changed their mind? Probably. But it’s their right to do that,” Edwards said.
“Look, they just chose not to play in a Bowl game, but anything other than that, they’ve been team all the way. And that’s their right,” Edwards added. “They’re protecting their future. They play a position that in this league, you don’t get many years at that position now, guys. That’s just the way it works. That’s why most of these kids come out early when they play that position, running back.”
Edwards added that he can see both the business and teammate/coach angle but said it comes down to an individual decision.
“It’s a high-risk sport,” he said. “You’re one injury away from being done.”