The Backout Bowl

I was going to opt out on writing a preview blog, you know–worried about a typing injury that might interfere with my ability to perform surgery–but then I felt a certain sense of duty to do what you have come to expect me to do. And to that end, I will do my best to provide you with an insightful (perhaps even inciteful) but ultimately worthless piece of prose that means absolutely nothing. You get what you pay for.

You can probably predict where I am going with this based on the blog’s title and opening paragraph. And if you are a regular reader, then you know that I am a FAN. That is short for fanatic. And I put the TIC in FANATIC.

As with anything in life, any argument has to look at the reality of the situation if it is going to be credible on any level.

So what is the reality of the situation? Dang it! I just broke a nail!

Well, first and foremost, there is nothing to prevent a player from opting out.

A potential injury to a player projected to go high in the draft, could conceivably be a multi-million dollar loss. I strongly considered skipping finals in college–I just didn’t think it was worth risking a brain sprain that might keep me from going on to medical school and costing me a lot of potential income down the road–but reconsidered when I realized that passing those finals and courses was kind of required to get into medical school. It’s way different for athletes. And a lot more money is involved.

Life is not fair.

So those are the facts, ma’am. Read ’em and weep.

Does that mean we can’t discuss this issue further?

Abso-positively-lutely NOT!

This is the freaking Internet! We don’t need silly facts to get in the way of seeking TRUTH!

I did try for maybe a couple minutes, a few clicks here and there, to find some hard data regarding how often a high NFL draft prospect gets injured in a bowl game. Unfortunately, it is not a well studied area of science and most of what I found was anecdotal.

There was an interesting Sports Illustrated article (in the Swimsuit Issue–I spent way too much time looking for data there which is probably a contributing factor to why I have no data to present to you here, but there was one model who dared to eat a donut even though she knew it might keep her from making the big bucks smiling in front of a camera with dental floss for a bikini–she survived and still made money!) Where was I? Maldives? Jamaica. Oh, wrong issue.

Anyway, Jaylon Smith and Jake Butt chime in with their thoughts on players opting out of bowl games to preserve NFL draft status. Both of these players ended up with injuries that adversely affected their draft statuses and their future NFL careers. Opting out was not an “in” thing before this. As the article quotes: “My situation has affected college football forever,” Smith says. “I’m going in the history books.”

Still, even though he lost out on significant money, his rookie season, and risked the longevity of his career with such a serious injury, Smith says he doesn’t regret playing in the Fiesta Bowl. “Being a competitor and a captain of my Notre Dame team, it was important for me to go out the right way,” he says.

The right way. Remember that. I will come back to that later. What about Butt? Here is his response:

Butt knew of Smith’s story, but says he hadn’t considered sitting out from the Orange Bowl until some of his teammates asked him about it after they saw the news that Fournette and McCaffrey would not be playing in their bowl games. Butt figured the reason he’d committed to Michigan in the first place was to play in big, nationally televised games like the Orange Bowl. “I know it sounds a little bit crazy,” he says, “but I would make the same exact choice again. That was one of the biggest games I was going to play in in Michigan my career.”

He would make the same choice again. Very interesting.

College football is unfortunately a business. A very big business. In the Big Ten it is BIG business.

But as a fan who has followed this pastime for many decades–the thrills of victories and the agonies of defeats–I do not like where any of this is heading.

Students who at one time couldn’t even accept a free burger from a coach on a recruiting visit, can now parlay the use of their image into real money. They have always had the opportunity to get scholarships–free rides at schools where that could be worth anywhere from $50-200K.

But it’s no longer about the education. Maybe it never was. But I do recall many of the great Paterno teams being senior laden–many with FIFTH YEAR seniors. You don’t see these kids stick around that long anymore. They don’t even stick around at one school anymore. I remember when you used to have to sit out a year if you transferred. Now, you can use the portal like Captain Kirk travelling around Uranus looking for Klingons. Beam me to a school that will play me, Scotty!

And now, they don’t even have to play their last game.

It’s interesting how this argument would change drastically if you could remove the money factor from the equation.

Seriously. I think you could strongly argue that all these kids would take their free trips to bowl venues and play these games for fame if there were no risk to their fortunes.

But wouldn’t they still risk injury? Adam Taliaferro is a lucky guy. Ryan Shazier likewise. They will never play the game again, for money or not, but they have healed from their severe injuries incurred while PLAYING A GAME.

Football is a rough sport. A quick Google of “which sport has the highest injuries” shows various results. Many of the first page articles claim that basketball has the highest rate of injuries, but there is an NIH article from the Journal of Athletic Training that affirms that football is the highest injury prone collegiate sport. I think we can safely say that for better or worse, football players take a risk of injury every time they walk onto a playing field be it for practice or competition.

Yet, if there was no money involved, I don’t think you would see the number of star players opting out of their bowl games. Think of it like this–if there was a way to insure that any potential future NFL player could be fully compensated for any potential lost revenue even if there was an injury and they were never able to play again–would they play?

The point I’m trying to make here is that these kids aren’t afraid of getting hurt–perhaps never walking again depending on the injury–they are afraid of losing money.

But on the flip side, colleges are just as concerned with the money. Show them the Money!

I found this rather interesting article on the finances of college athletics–which also shows a picture of Penn State and Ohio State playing at the top. The data cited is from the 2018-19 time frame so it is pre-COVID. Private institutions (such as Notre Dame) are not listed because they are not required to divulge their financial data as a public university must do.

Yet these figures tell only part of the story. Most casual observers might be shocked to learn that despite the huge sums of cash seen here, only a handful of schools actually make money through college athletics.

If you didn’t click on the link, Penn State is #6 with a revenue of $164,529,326.

Insane amounts of money. But as a business owner myself, there are also insane amounts of overhead. Facilities, stadiums, advertising, recruiting, coaches salaries, assistants, secretaries and on and on.

When a kid commits to Penn State, Penn State is also committing a lot to that kid. Dotson was given a venue to showcase his talents. Every dollar that Penn State spent on their sports program either directly or indirectly helped Dotson get to the point where he is now.

But Dotson has talent. He could showcase it at any other school.

The schools benefit from the athletes. The athletes benefit from what the schools can provide them with.

It would be rather low class for a school, heading to a bowl game where they will make MONEY to tell one of their players, ‘sorry, Mr. Dotson. We don’t need your services anymore. You won’t be travelling with us, and we won’t be issuing you a diploma. Oh, and by the way, you owe us for the course hours you completed already.’

Can a school even do that? Probably not.

The level of commitment is really one-sided. The University provides. The athletes–and head coaches–take as much advantage as they can, and often move on.

And “the University” is more than just a building and a name. It is alumni. It is fans. As a Pennsylvania citizen, I am personally responsible for one fan’s share of all that money Penn State makes–I buy tickets, I donate, I pay taxes and some of that money goes back to PSU, not to mention parking fees, concessions, and Penn State licensed apparel. I watch the advertisements during their games. I buy some of those products. Some of that goes back to Penn State.

We fans are the reason any of this happens.

If no one goes to games, buys tickets, or watches them on TV, there is no money.

And comically, we fans have the LEAST say in all this business.

Recall earlier I said I would come back to that comment about the right thing to do?

If a player commits to Penn State, and Penn State gives them every opportunity to improve and increase their NFL status, then I think the player owes some commitment back to the school, and by extension the fans and patrons that make all this possible.

I agree with Jaylon Smith. Playing in your final Bowl Game is the right thing to do.

It just might not be the wisest decision if money is what is important to you. I don’t like it, but I do get it.

And that’s the way it is. Players have the option. It is up to them.

So how about that bowl game? Who’s going to win?

ESPN. Penn State–the University–win or lose. And I might even get some entertainment value out of the deal.

But I have no idea who is going to win. I’m not even sure who is playing! The only sure thing is Clifford will play. He’s like death and taxes. And he’ll be a sixth year senior next year!

Come New Year’s Day, I will be rooting for whoever we put on the field in blue and white. Even if we have to put some cheerleaders in on defense! It’s going to be more like a Blue-White scrimmage than a real game, but it is what it is, and I will always be a fan!

1 Comment

Filed under football, Penn State, sports, Uncategorized

One response to “The Backout Bowl

  1. Pingback: Another Weird Bowl Season - The Nittany Turkey

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