The modern era of college football is facing several issues, not least of which is NFL-eligible players opting out of bowl games to prepare for the draft process.
That phenomenon became a topic of discussion during Saturday’s episode of ESPN’s “College GameDay,” one in which analyst Kirk Herbstreit claimed the modern era of college football players “just doesn’t love football.”
Herbstreit and fellow analyst Desmond Howard bemoaned the recent trend of players opting out of bowl games, comparing it to their playing days when bowls were considered rewards for seasons well played. Both analysts described modern players as “entitled,” adding that many players simply don’t value bowls as much if they’re not playing in the College Football Playoff.
If Herbstreit and Howard are unhappy with players no longer valuing bowl games, they can place part of the blame on their own network. The ESPN family of networks, which has near-monopolous coverage of bowl season, also has exclusive broadcasting rights of the playoff. The network has taken great pains in its marketing to portray the playoff as the biggest, most important and most meaningful aspect of the sport.
That’s reflected from the start of the season, but takes on even greater importance as it progresses toward the first set of College Football Playoff rankings, selection Sunday and the national championship game. The exclusivity of the four-team playoff is a contributing factor, though Herbstreit mentioned he didn’t know whether expanding the playoff would result in increased player participation.
Herbstreit later apologized for his comments, saying he didn’t mean to lump every player together in a generalized statement. That said, he didn’t back down from the point he intended to make: that not every player loves the game of football like previous generations used to.
Hebrstreit and Howard aren’t the only ones who have criticized players for choosing to focus on the NFL as opposed to their teams’ bowl games. Mississippi State coach Mike Leach called the practice “one of the biggest absurdities I’ve ever seen.”
“You’ve got an obligation to the place that helped build and develop you and finish it out in the bowl,” Leach said, via the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.). “That’s part of it. You owe it to your team, you owe it to your fans, you owe it to your coaches and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world to me.”
That said, college football is a sport that has always allowed for flexibility and mobility among coaches, and which is experimenting with paying players in the form of NIL deals for the first time this season. It’s only right that players be allowed the same options to prioritize themselves, especially when potential millions of dollars are on the line.
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