Friday, December 14, 2018

Greed Killed the Bowls

Greed Killed the Bowls
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
December 14, 2018

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” quipped Michael Douglass’s Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street.

Yeah, not so much, where the college football bowl games are concerned.

In “Missing From Bowls: Top Players,” a column penned by Brian Costa in the Wednesday, December 12 Wall Street Journal, coincidentally, at least a dozen NFL probables reported they would not take a knee, but instead, they would take a seat - declining to participate in their teams’ grand finale. The paramount reason for opting not to play is to avoid the risk of injury and potentially damage their chance at a big payday suiting up at the next level.

As for the team’s grand finale, they’re just not that grand anymore. There are 40 bowl games plus a national championship, meaning 80 schools are participating in this cavalcade of high priced advertising, high priced sponsorships, and high priced tickets. When 80 schools “earn” postseason berths, this year 10 of which enter their game with break even records of six wins and six losses, there is most certainly a diminished importance to these games. Most of the 80 teams will play in front of thousands of empty seats masquerading as fans not willing to travel or shell out a small fortune when they can enjoy numerous games at one time with remote in hand on a comfy couch adorned with less expensive, warmer, and tastier snacks.

As mentioned above, 10 teams enter their bowl at .500 and a chance to end their season with a losing record. Drop half the bowls to make them relevant again. Add four more teams to the championship playoff - akin to the Elite Eight of March Madness. Raise to seven wins, the requirement for earning bowl eligibility. Six wins worked when the regular season consisted of 11 games - 6-5 is still a winning record. If a team can’t do better than breaking even, they should be home watching the bowls instead of playing in one.

And as for the players themselves, skipping the bowl seems a double-edged sword. By not playing, they are protecting themselves and their future. After all, it is their lives, and as many point out, the universities are making millions of dollars over the span of the collegiate player’s career on campus, while the student-athlete does not see a penny. Make no mistake, I have never endorsed paying student-athletes.

Quite frankly, if these student-athletes were truly concerned about their economic future and well being, they would focus more on the “student” aspect of student-athlete and take full advantage of their academic scholarship. Barely two percent will play football on Sundays, and 98 percent will need to find employment that does not require donning a football uniform.

The scholarship is a form of payment along with its concomitant perks. When players choose to leave school early, they should be required to pay back that scholarship. That is money that could serve an economically disadvantaged, yet academically deserving student.

On the other hand, by accepting a scholarship, players are agreeing to provide a service to the school - playing football. In effect, the scholarship is a payday - tuition, room, board, insurance, and myriad other expenses that the player is not paying out of pocket. Players sitting out of bowl games are diminishing their team’s chance of success on the gridiron, and losing could affect future recruitment to the school.

Don’t forget, without the schools, these players wouldn’t have a venue in which to showcase their talent - and it’s still a team sport where the quarterback needs the guards and the running back needs the blockers - many of whom are unsung.

Then there is the issue of loyalty. What happens when the collegiate player who heretofore bailed on the bowl game decides not to play in a seemingly meaningless end of season NFL game for his 2-13 team, for fear of sustaining an injury? Will his team garnish his wages? Suspend him without pay? Trade him for being a malcontent? And if attempting a trade, perhaps no other team will take a chance on such a player who lacks loyalty and the desire to be a team player. Even in a seemingly meaningless bowl game, there are still life lessons to be learned. Hopefully these players will learn those lessons before they adversely impact their future.

Perhaps without the greed of an overly aggressive 40 game bowl schedule, if there were but 20 such games, players would work harder and strive to qualify for one of those 20 games which would be more meaningful. Perhaps requiring seven wins would also make the achievement of postseason more meaningful and the gratitude of such an accomplishment the impetus of potential NFL players finishing what they started at the collegiate level. There used to be a time when a limited number of bowl games sparked a level of competition that drove players and teams to reach beyond their potential and not settle for break even. Perhaps driving the level of competition back to those days would instill a greater desire to not only succeed on the gridiron, but in life after football. It used to be the American way, and perhaps it can be once again.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. His Maryland Terrapins finished out of postseason with a 5-7 record.

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