I blame Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey for damaging college football and beginning the downfall of the bowl tradition.
Fournette and McCaffrey were both healthy scratches from their final college football games simply because they didn’t want to get hurt prior to the NFL draft. It’s worth noting both LSU and Stanford went on to win their bowl games without the help of their biggest stars. But that’s beside the point. The precedent was set by those two that it was OK to quit on your teammates and fans.
The only in-state example of a player being a quitter came last year when Carlton Davis skipped Auburn’s game against Central Florida before being selected in the second round (No. 63 overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But now we’ve taken it to another level. Last week came word Will Grier will skip West Virginia’s Camping World Bowl game against Syracuse Dec. 28. He will be the first big-time quarterback to desert his team with a bowl game still to play.
Grier isn’t injured. In fact, he has already committed to come to Mobile for the Reese’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Jan. 26, and I can’t wait to watch him in person.
Grier is no ordinary quarterback. He has become a West Virginia legend by passing for 3,864 yards and 37 touchdowns while leading the Mountaineers to an 8-3 record this season. His shootout with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray was one of the most memorable games of the 2018 season.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has him listed as the fifth-best quarterback eligible for the draft. That makes him a likely first-round or second-round NFL selection.
In his statement announcing his decision, Grier thanked his coaches and “most importantly my teammates, who are now lifelong friends who taught me the true meaning of team.”
I’m not sure the lesson stuck.
Grier isn’t the only player choosing to skip bowl games this season — in fact, he’s not the only Mountaineer. All-American tackle Yodny Cajuste has announced he also won’t play against Syracuse.
Ed Oliver of Houston couldn’t even make it to the end of the regular season before shutting it down. In Oliver’s defense, he was nursing an injury and wants to get healthy before the NFL workouts.
Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry has already missed the Sun Devils’ Las Vegas Bowl appearance against Fresno State, instead watching his team lose 31-20 from the sideline. His teammates had to be wondering if maybe the game would be going differently if their most explosive offensive player was on the field.
Other players who have chosen to skip bowl games this season include Iowa tight end Noah Fant, Michigan defensive tackle Rashan Gary, South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel, LSU defensive back Greedy Williams, Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill, Oklahoma State guard Larry Williams, North Carolina State linebacker Germaine Pratt, North Carolina State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon and Minnesota offensive tackle Donnell Greene.
The defense of these players’ decisions is always the same, and always wrong: Why should they play in a meaningless bowl game?
If the outcome of the Camping World Bowl is so meaningless, then why is ESPN paying millions of dollars to televise it? Why are thousands of fans spending a good portion of their disposable income to go to the game?
Take this argument one step further: What is significant about the Alabama-Oklahoma game?
When we wake up Sunday morning after the Tide and Sooners play, there are still going to be hungry kids around the world, there are still going to be people suffering from deadly and painful diseases, and there will still be wars going on around the globe.
So what difference does it make if Alabama or Oklahoma advance to the national championship game? The result only matters because we college football fans have decided we’ve chosen this as our escape from the things in the world that really matter.
The result of the Alabama-Oklahoma game is not going to change the world. The Clemson-Notre Dame game won’t impact the world, either.
So, it would seem that the next step for college football is for such players as Alabama’s Jonah Williams, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Clemson’s Christian Wilkins and Notre Dame’s Julian Love to realize they need to make a “business decision” and skip the College Football Playoff.
When that happens, I will blame Fournette and McCaffrey for making it OK to turn your back on your teammates after you committed to be with them until the end.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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