It appears that Leonard Fournette, LSU’s star running back, has created a trend for standout players across the country. Like Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey announced Monday morning that he, too, will skip his team’s bowl game:
— Christian McCaffrey (@CMccaffrey5) December 19, 2016
This trend seems to have been inspired by what happened to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith in the Fiesta Bowl last season. Smith, at the time a presumed top-10 NFL draft pick, suffered a devastating left knee injury in that game, which caused him to fall to the second round and likely cost him millions of dollars.
For Fournette and McCaffrey, presumed first-rounders, this seems to be a business decision above all else. If your team is not in the College Football Playoff and you know this is your last game regardless, why risk having what happened to Smith happen to you? Adding Citrus Bowl champion, like Fournette had a chance to do, to your resume is certainly not worth the risk of losing the kind of money that can set your family up for generations.
Unlike Fournette, however, McCaffrey has not been dealing with a pre-existing injury. Fournette has had to deal with a nagging left ankle injury all season, so his decision to sit out makes a bit more sense, even though both decisions are understandable.
Of course, Fournette’s decision to sit out the Citrus Bowl is just a small version of what people have speculated about him for years. From the beginning of his sophomore year on, there’s been debate about whether Fournette should sit out entire seasons to ensure his draft stock remained as high as possible. While that ultimately never came to fruition, Fournette ultimately made the wise decision to put his self-interest in front of winning a bowl game, and that appears to have influenced at least one of college football’s biggest stars in McCaffrey.
Fournette and McCaffrey’s situations are bound to make some fans upset. People are going to claim that they’re putting themselves ahead of their teams. But this is the type of decision we see from coaches all the time:
Got a text from a coach. "If some coaches can skip bowls to get ready for their next job, how can anyone fault Fournette or McCaffrey??"
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 19, 2016
Coaches, of course, hardly receive any criticism for those type of decisions. We just saw it with new Texas head coach Tom Herman (formerly of Houston) and new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart (South Florida). It’s understandable when those guys leave, and it would be hypocritical to criticize potential high draft picks for doing the same. Now we just have to see whether McCaffrey is the only star Fournette has influenced or whether there are more to come in the years ahead.