West Virginia QB Will Grier Michael Thomas/Associated Press

Trend of College Football Players Skipping Bowls Is Increasing, and That's OK

Kerry Miller

More than a dozen college football players have already said they will skip their team's bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.

And that's perfectly fine.

It's not an epidemic or any sort of problem that needs to be fixed—no matter how many old codgers lament the loss of the good ol' days when players walked uphill in the snow both ways for the privilege of appearing in bowl games.

Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette took a lot of criticism for pioneering that career path two years ago. But once everyone came down from their "entitled millennials!" soapbox, the narrative shifted from a question of why guys would quit on their teams to one of why it took so long for potential first-round picks to make that smart decision.

Before we go further, let's be clear this won't be some diatribe about the meaninglessness of non-CFP bowl games, nor a complaint about the sheer volume of bowls. It would be hypocritical for me to go there when I have every intention of devouring the Tuesday night showdown between UAB and Northern Illinois and cannot wait for the Friday afternoon FIU-Toledo game.

Rather, this is a plea to reconsider the way we view the non-playoff portion of bowl season: as a celebration of the past four months as a team, a celebration of the past four (or more) years for many players and as an early start to spring camps.

LSU CB Greedy Williams Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Not all fans or teams will necessarily agree with the first portion of that. In particular, neither Miami nor Wisconsin will celebrate its spot in the Pinstripe Bowl, considering both squads had national championship aspirations in the preseason. But most of these teams either met or exceeded expectations, so enjoy the moment.

In the majority of bowl games, dozens of players suit up for the final time. Cherish that and go cheer for them one last time.

And while you're there, get a glimpse of what lies ahead. Thanks to rules instituted this year, there should be a lot of freshmen getting onto the field in an official game for the first time, since it wouldn't cost eligible players a redshirt season. Maybe we'll even see Georgia's Zamir White or TCU's Justin Rogers make their long-awaited debuts. At the least, we should see a lot of Justin Fields at QB for the Bulldogs, right?

If you win, great. Brag about it in next year's media guide and use it for recruiting pull. If you lose, oh well. At least you had the experience, and no one remembers a program's record in bowl games. (Case in point: Virginia Tech is playing in its 26th consecutive bowl this year, but the Hokies only went 12-13 in those first 25 contests. You hear the first part of that stat all the time; never the second part.)

But if the guys who have mentally moved on to the NFL don't feel like risking injury in a game that doesn't affect much other than whether the head coach gets more contract incentives, it's no big deal.

So, godspeed, Will Grier. You made West Virginia's offense a heck of a lot of fun to watch for the past two seasons. And by skipping the Camping World Bowl against Syracuse, you're giving Jack Allison a chance to prove what he's capable of against a solid team. That's a win-win for the outgoing and incoming Mountaineer QBs.

Fare thee well, N'Keal Harry. After two seasons of carrying Arizona State's receiving corps, you've more than earned a day off. And the Sun Devils coaching staff got to use an excellent Fresno State secondary for a good look at Brandon Aiyuk as the likely best candidate to step into the No. 1 role next year.

Arizona State WR N'Keal Harry Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

And, arrivederci, Greedy Williams and Rashan Gary. Your defensive prowess helped propel LSU and Michigan to New Year's Six Bowls. But even those games aren't important enough to risk an injury that would compromise your draft potential. Jaylon Smith and Jake Butt found that out the hard way, suffering devastating setbacks in losing efforts in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl and 2016 Orange Bowl, respectively.

There's no reason to begrudge any of those players for looking out for their best personal and financial interests and calling it a college career one game early after several years of sacrificing their bodies so others could profit.

We do have one selfish hope, though: Set a deadline for these decisions.

It's a practically impossible request. Even if the NCAA tried to enforce something, a player could decide an hour before the game to sit out for draft purposes, and the team could just say he rolled his ankle in pregame warm-ups. A player can't be forced to play or announce his decision about playing any more than Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh can be forced to publish a legitimate preseason depth chart.

But if someone could figure out the logistics, it'd be great to know who's in and who's out long before kickoff.

Grier played his final game Nov. 23. West Virginia's chances of reaching the College Football Playoff were already slim before that loss to Oklahoma, but it was clear the Mountaineers wouldn't play in a New Year's Six Bowl as soon as that game ended.

So why did he need to wait until Dec. 8 to make that decision? (And why did McCaffrey wait until Dec. 19 two years ago?)

It's mildly annoying for those of us who need to analyze and make predictions for every contest. It has to be extremely annoying for the coaching staffs on both teams as they form game plans. But it's potentially devastating for people who bet on games and the institutions that take those bets.

West Virginia went from a -7 to a -1.5-point favorite in less than 24 hours because Grier and star offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste opted to skip the Camping World Bowl. If you crunched the numbers in the first 96 hours after the bowl pairings were announced and bet on the Mountaineers to cover the touchdown spread, you're not too happy with that roster change. (Then again, if you took the Orange when they were a seven-point dog, you've got to be thrilled.)

Needing to account for injuries is always an unknown, particularly several weeks in advance of a game.

This is different, though.

Unless some sort of deadline is instituted, we're forced to guess at whether projected first-round picksaka the most important players on the team—will participate in non-CFP bowl games. It's like when every sports site posts way-too-early Top 25 rankings right after the national championship with a bunch of asterisks denoting who we expect to stay or go, except with actual monetary ramifications to those guesses.

But aside from that small ask, this is a good trend. With millions of dollars on the line and next to nothing to gain from playing one final game, prospects shouldn't take the risk.

So, keep on sitting. You've earned it.

We'll keep watching the games regardless.


Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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