The people running the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and the Hyundai Sun Bowl can’t be happy this morning. Leonard Fournette — LSU’s star running back — and Christian McCaffrey — Stanford’s all-purpose dynamo — both decided to sit out their final college games before the draft. That means bowl sponsors that shelled out millions of dollars to stamp their name in front of ‘insert whatever bowl your school is going to’ are losing their biggest draws. If this becomes common, that is extremely bad for bowls.
Look, there are a ton of bowls. It’s pretty easy to find a bowl saturation article on the internet. This year a number of bowls couldn’t even find a sponsor. It’s been comedy gold for sports satire sites. It’s hard enough for all the bowl committees to find sponsors. It’s actually hard enough to find enough bowl eligible teams to fill all the slots.
Now star players are sitting out. Die-hard fans will still probably tune into the games. There are LSU fans who would probably watch if I started at running back — I am pretty sure Coach Orgeron could get me fired up to play at least a quarter — but casual fans aren’t tuning into a game if they know Leonard Fournette is sitting out. Casual fans definitely aren’t watching the Sun Bowl if Christian McCaffrey — Stanford’s lone big play threat — is sitting out. It’s simple, this limits bowl sponsors’ exposure. It will hurt ticket sales. It will hurt TV ratings. It’s bad for business.
That isn’t saying that McCaffrey and Forunette aren’t making the right decision. Jaylon Smith was a top-ten talent and dropped to the second round due to a knee injury suffered in last year’s game against Ohio State. There was a real chance Smith’s career could’ve been ended by that injury. Sure he had an insurance policy. That does not make up for projected career earnings. If Smith never returns to form, that seems like an easy trade off. I bet he would sit out if he knew now what he knew then.
Before someone says, “well he could’ve gotten injured on any play. It’s football.” That’s true, but why on earth would you subject yourself to even that chance. McCaffrey could get injured in his first contract. Great — well not great — but at least at that point he is under contract.
This creates a slippery slope. A lot of players may follow suit — especially if another big name player who isn’t sitting out does get injured. This means it’s a huge threat to the bowl system as currently constructed. The playoff already took a bit of shine off the ancillary bowls. Ratings haven’t been great the past few years. There are fewer sponsors to go around. Now players are choosing to sit out to protect their draft stock. The players have the right to make that decision. It’s the bowl system and sponsors that have to adapt.