12/13ths of a Scholarship

Posted on December 6, 2018, in Football by MaizeAndBlueWahoo.

Occasionally I will get up on a soapbox and rant about stuff that is at best only tangentially related to UVA.  This is one of those times.

UVA's opponent in the Charlotte bowl game will be without perhaps their biggest weapon.  Wide receiver Deebo Samuel - South Carolina's best in basically all categories - will skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.  Great for UVA.  Maybe not so good for Bryce Hall, whose own NFL draft stock could've gotten a boost from potentially shutting down Samuel the way a UVA team once did to a certain Larry Fitzgerald in the same stadium.

More importantly in the bigger college football picture, this kind of thing has suddenly become commonplace.  When Christian McCaffrey did it, it made headlines.  Now there are trackers for it the same way there are trackers for grad transfers.  A solid dozen or so players will be missing from bowl games.

Me, I don't like it.

It's not that hard to get why they do it.  An injury can cost a player millions that he might never get back.  His bowl game performance could boost his draft position, but not by much.  And the player has all the leverage in the world, his obligation to his team being essentially done.  What's a coach going to do, fire him?  Any retribution he takes is only ever going to alienate a potential recruiting and fundraising tool.  The last thing a recruiter needs is to tell a kid "you know, so-and-so played here" and the kid knows that so-and-so hates that coach for being petty about playing in bowl games.  Besides, the chance for the future draftee's replacement to get those reps and game time is also not to be overlooked.

I still don't like it.  If you ever got one impression from my past writings it is that I'm an old-ass man who wasn't born all that long ago.  I happen to kind of like the notion that if you sign up for something - especially if you're compensated for it, which make no mistake these players are - you follow through.  It's old-fashioned, I know.  And not a lot of fans agree with me - they'll tell you that these bowl games are just meaningless exhibitions.

That they certainly are not.  Many of those same fans will spend hundreds, or thousands, traveling to the game, and will eagerly boast about the great experience they had.  They'll make a vacation out of it.  Or they'll at least mark their calendars and block off those three hours to park in front of the TV.  They might host a party, or attend one.  Pretty much the only time bowl games are called "meaningless exhibitions" is when a player decides to skip it.  Otherwise they're practically a holy grail of achievement.  The sheer amount of money in the bowl system entirely belies the tired "meaningless exhibition" trope.

And then, skipping the game is sometimes justified by the notion that the players aren't paid (enough.  They do get something that 99% of college students never have.)  After all, "they make the schools so much money."  Which they do.....kind of.  In the sense that nobody will pay to watch any football if there are no players.  But then, how many South Carolina fans will skip the game just because Deebo Samuel will?

Slippery-slope is always an argument at risk of being overused, but is it that hard to imagine a player deciding that his 4-7 team no longer has anything to play for and just up and quits in the regular season?  (When we talk about leaving in the middle of the season, we need to make clear we're not talking Nick Bosa here, who had a season-ending injury and subsequently left school, none of which is remotely unreasonable.)  If you think that's not coming, you're probably in for a surprise.

A bowl game is not a minefield of injuries any more so than any other game.  Injuries do remain a problem - which is why insurance exists.  And if you think maybe the NCAA or the conference or even the bowls should fork over some money for that insurance, you might be surprised to find me agreeing with you.  It's not like the bowl-skippers are walking away from the benefits of being a scholarship athlete - they'll still be participating in their school's pro day, you can bet on it.  And they'll (at least nominally) be students at those schools, using the facilities to train and receiving a full scholarship - not 12/13ths of one.  Even if the decision is entirely reasonable from a go-get-that-ca$$$$$h perspective and there's all the leverage in the world to do so, I still like it better when people finish out their obligations.  Call it old-fashioned all you like.