It is college football bowl season. An increasingly common storyline around this time is which players will opt in or out of their team’s bowl game. Opting out is unpopular among the fanbases for obvious and understandable reasons… but only makes sense for some players.
Bowl games are post-season games that teams only get to if they win at least six games. Because these take place after the regular season some players decide that their obligation is up and start preparing for the NFL. There are a number of factors that go into making a decision like that. Things like injuries, draft status, coaching changes, and even the prestige of the bowl game are considered.
For example: Let’s say you are a high-profile quarterback, but your team was just pretty good and playing in a lesser bowl game. You have been dealing with injuries and the team’s offensive line has been unable to protect you. You are projected to be a late first-round pick with little chance of moving up. There is not a whole lot of reason for an injury-prone QB to play for an empty title in a game that can only hurt his draft status. He may do it out of pride. Most players end up doing just that. But it is a business decision and like all business decisions, he may choose to act in his own best interest and save his body for the coming NFL payday.
Fans don’t look at it from this perspective. How could they? They have only ever been fans. But the truth is most of us would think twice about playing in a meaningless game if we had an NFL future to consider.
The counter-argument is “commitment.” You often hear fans say that the player made a commitment to the team. Or remark that the player should give back the scholarship. That latter point is actually pretty interesting because it surprises most people to know that the NCAA scholarships are not actually guaranteed for four years. Schools take them all the time. Especially when there is a coaching change. This is also probably when I should mention that coaches frequently take new jobs during the bowl season. So, the schools are not nearly as committed to these athletes as fans think they are.
The other massive elephant in the room is that these guys are not getting paid. Name image and likeness money doesn’t come from the schools.
As long as the only thing binding a player to a school is a 1-year renewable scholarship, some high-profile players will skip bowl games. It is only natural. More compensation would probably lead to more commitment. Until then everyone is going to act in their own best interest. The best a fan can hope is that those interests line up.