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On My Hill: 'Opting out' of college football bowl games

College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit made an out of touch and disrespectful comment when he stated that highly-rated NFL projects who opt out of virtually meaningless games “just (don’t) love football.” 

This is a heated topic in college football now, with draft prospects like Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, Ohio State receiving duo Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave and potential number one pick Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon all choosing to skip their bowl games and look ahead to the draft.

A handful of players went a step further in 2020 and opted out of the entire season to protect their draft stock. 

Can you blame them? With millions of dollars on the line and a great chance to play at the highest level, what does a trophy do to override the risk of a serious injury or poor play that could severely damage their position in the draft and the chance to lose out on millions?

Without a chance for a title and bringing home a national championship, anyone who doesn’t make the College Football Playoff doesn’t really have anything to play for. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral said it “wasn’t him” to skip the Sugar Bowl, and that he wanted to support the guys who helped make him such a great prospect all season.

This is absolutely a respectable sentiment, but Corral rolled his leg over after an awkward hit and left the game early in the first quarter. He returned to the sideline on crutches.

Corral’s injury further exemplified the exact reason why players opt-out. He’s lucky that his injury was a typical ankle sprain and shouldn’t have any effect on his spot in the draft, but it could have been a lot worse. 

I think the only way to avoid this trend from getting “worse” is to expand the playoff to at least eight teams. Giving more teams a chance to compete for a title allows some of the top players to have a little more to play for, though Herbstreit doesn’t think so. Guys like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields stayed in their playoff games even though they were sure-fire first rounders.

Another idea is to limit the number of bowl games altogether. There are far too many to remember and the NCAA keeps matchups between less than stellar teams like Boston College and Eastern Carolina playing to make money off of advertisements and scholarships. 

Having fewer bowls makes the games more meaningful. When 88 of 130 FBS teams play a postseason game, it hardly feels special. 

These solutions aren’t perfect and won’t deter all players from opting out - but it exposes the bigger issue that lies within college football. Everything is driven by money in a league where players don’t get paid for their on-field performance. 

The newly signed NIL deal allows players to make a profit off of their likenesses, but the vast majority of this comes from partnerships with companies who need another face to sell more product.

Each of the 44 bowl games is sponsored by a specific company and has their names attached to the bowl title. The Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Chick Fil A Peach Bowl. The Capital One Orange Bowl. Even the trophy is literally called the Dr. Pepper National Championship trophy. It’s inescapable and the broadcasts are just proof of unpaid players being exploited for money.

After one of the most electrifying performances in college football history, Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s reception of the Rose Bowl MVP wasn’t even televised on ESPN so they could move on and highlight the ads of the next game playing.

Ohio State’s Marcus Williamson made a great point in response to Herbstreit’s comments on a Twitter thread.

Is there no issue with coaches like LSU’s Brian Kelly or USC’s Lincoln Riley who left their teams before their bowl games to sign a bigger deal somewhere else? I wonder how Kirk Herbstreit would feel if his salary was stripped before his TV commentary leading up to the Rose Bowl. Would he show up and commentate for free anyway, just for the “love of football”?

Former Heisman winner Desmond Howard says the athletes have a sense of entitlement and the rewards that come with winning a bowl game don’t mean as much to them. Why are the players criticized for acknowledging the flaws of their predecessors and making a calculated decision to have a better chance of earning the big bucks at the highest level?

Maybe Howard is right. The rewards don’t mean as much. It seems as though today’s players are smarter in securing their future instead of committing themselves to a system and university that has exploited their talents as a way to bring in revenue. 

Christo Siegel is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Christo by tweeting him at @imchristosiegel. 

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