Christian McCaffrey’s college football career is over. He entered the season as a favorite to snatch the Heisman trophy, and a week after the award was handed over to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, McCaffrey decided he’d hang up his Stanford jersey for good.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette — another previous Heisman hopeful and possibly the most hyped running back in the Tigers’ history — called it quits this week, too.
Neither McCaffrey nor Fournette are seniors. Stanford will battle North Carolina in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30, and LSU will take on Louisville in the Citrus Bowl a day later. Both star running backs will be cheering on their teammates from the comfort of the sidelines.
Pro Football Focus ranks Fournette the top running back in the 2017 NFL Draft, with his Stanford counterpart two spots behind him. That’s apparently enough to call it a career a bowl game shy of a full season.
This rubs plenty of people the wrong way. “Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette quit on their schools, teammates,” one Chicago Tribune headline reads.
Yahoo Sports predicts the decisions by two marquee players will open the floodgates for pro prospects sitting out bowl games for years to come.
Can we really blame them?
There are already too many bowl games — 41 this winter. The money to participate in these bowl games entices the heck out of universities, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
As is the intrigue of the money each running back can expect when he’s drafted in April.
We’re talking millions of dollars at stake for the sake of one measly bowl game that means nothing except dollar signs for an athletic department that refuses to pay its athletes said dollar signs. An injury in a meaningless game — very likely in a sport where players bash each other’s skulls in — would ruin everything these players have worked for over the entirety of their lives.
They aren’t bailing on their teammates. They gave their teammates years of hard work and dedication, the same thing that earned them the right to protect their draft stock. Fournette played through an injury because he wanted to beat Florida so bad late in the year.
Lebron James, the greatest basketball player in the world, has sat out a couple of games already this season. The reason? “Rest,” the box score read.
Also unacceptable, grumpy old columnists have written.
This is a guy who plays close to 100 games of the highest caliber basketball a year and has done so for 13-plus seasons. Throw in practices and gobs of travel, and the guy deserves a rest. How is it any different than the normal 9-to-5er taking 15 personal days a year to get a nice break from sitting at a desk.
Pro athletes deserve personal days, too.
Yet, we look at superstar athletes in such a different light. We expect so much more from them. We want so badly to look at them as normal human beings until it’s convenient not to.
Tim Duncan sat out a number of games per season, especially late in his career, one that spanned 19 seasons. He became probably the best power forward the game has seen not named Lebron.
Old timers will compare the current “ball-hog” NBA to the “good ol’ days,” where players were tougher and the game was more watchable. “Larry Bird would have never sat out a game; he was a competitor,” they’ll preach.
Well, Bird only lasted 13 seasons. His final two he played just 60 and 45 games. Of all guys who would have benefited from some days off, Bird is toward the top of the list.
It’s unfair to say these guys don’t love the game as much as others. Maybe they love it more, so they’re protecting themselves in order to play that game they love as long as they can.
James has already played more seasons than Bird, and he’s coming off an NBA Finals MVP season. The light at the end of the tunnel is still very dim for the King.
McCaffrey and Fournette want similar lengths in their tunnels. Their teammates, fans, coaches and schools should root for that. Stanford and LSU made this all possible, and that should be their primary job.
Just like playing more football is the primary job of the two backs.
Rest up, boys. We’ll see you on Sundays.
Mike Pruden is the Sheridan Press sports editor.