Thursday, December 22, 2016

Players Should Suit Up for Bowls

Players Should Suit Up for Bowls
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
December 22, 2016

While there is no “I” in team, there most certainly is, in “selfish.”

Three running backs, Leonard Fournette from Louisiana State University, Shock Linwood from Baylor, and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford have each opted to forgo their teams’ postseason bowl games. Instead, they will prepare for the NFL draft and hope to raise their personal stock.

Were I an NFL team general manager, I would look upon these players, regardless of their individual talent, as demonstrating poor personal character in abandoning the team that helped make them an NFL prospect in the first place. One player does not a team make. A quarterback is only as good as his guards and a running back is only as good as his blockers.

Coaches should insist upon their teams operating at full strength – and that includes potential Sunday players. Those players should be obligated to play unless injured or suspended because the rest of the team deserves the same opportunity to win a bowl game as they did their regular season games. (Coaches who jump ship early when accepting a better job offer to coach elsewhere are no better than the players for whom they should be setting the example. Coaches should demonstrate the loyalty they expect their players to emulate.)

In fact, the athletic scholarship is akin to a contract, which should be enforced. Schools recruited those players to bring victories to the universities in exchange for tuition, room, board, and an actual education. Such an education should include lessons learned off the field and out of the classroom. Character is one such lesson, as is putting team above self.

For the same reason – putting team above self – the system of “one-and-done” should not exist. A student-athlete commits to a university and accepts a scholarship for the duration of their NCAA eligibility. Leaving school early is a breach of that contract and the student-athlete should be required to repay the value of the unused portion of the scholarship back to the university.

College football and basketball serve as de facto minor leagues, and as such, players who may not typically be found on a college campus will accept recruitment offers for lack of any other venues to put their talents on display. A minor league system should exist to nurture and grow the talents of players who, academically, should not be taking the spot on a campus of a more qualified student. Clearly this is a subject for a future column.

Perhaps another reason for players to skip their final college game is that bowl games are no longer special, but a money making scheme. (OK, they have always been about the money – I’m not that obtuse.) This is an indictment of the enormous number of bowl games being played – 40. Ten years ago, in 2006, there were 32 bowl games. In both 1996 and 1986 there were 18 bowl games, 12 in 1976 and a mere nine in 1966.

There are 128 schools in the BCS – Bowl Championship Series, of which, 80 or 62.5 percent, have “qualified” for a post-season invitation. Of this year’s 80 bowl invitees, 19 have records of 6-6 or worse – 14 at .500 and five sub-.500 records. Simple solution – ditch 10 bowl games and those 19 schools. This is as bad as the NHL and NBA playoffs that drag on through June. When the NCAA ran an 11 game season, and six wins qualified a school for a bowl, at least they would be over .500. Now, with a 12 game season, and conference tournaments, a school with six qualifying wins could “earn” a bowl at 6-7. An above .500 record, regardless of how many games played, should be the line of demarcation for bowl qualification. If there aren’t enough schools, start cancelling bowls from newest to oldest in terms of existence. Far too many of these games are played before thousands of empty seats masquerading as fans.

Receiving a bowl invitation meant something – a reward for a regular season well played. Today, a bowl invitation to a 6-6 team, or worse, is akin to a participation trophy, and that is wholly unacceptable. Want to earn a bowl game? Play better. (For the same reason any more than 64 schools participating in March Madness is too many.)

Jason Gay, in his December 23, 2016 Wall Street Journal column “Beware the Zombie Bowls!” wrote that “A playoff has rendered bowls near-irrelevant so it’s tough to chastise a player for opting out.”

I disagree with Gay on this one because for years, fans, students, players, and sponsors knew the mid-December bowls were not going to determine the national championship. These games are played with and for pride by the participants and will remain lasting memories long after the applause fades and the clocks strike zero. All the players should suit up for these bowls as they are team events that will speak well of their character – character that their fans will notice and emulate.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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