Editor’s Column: The old heads of college athletics

Over the winter break, football fans were treated to the yearly tradition of college football bowl games. The most famous New Year six bowl games were alongside 40 other bowl games designed to make money. 

This year saw an even more dramatic difference in players opting out, with stars such as Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Kenneth Walker, Kenny Pickett, and many other star players from the 2021 season not taking part in their bowl games. 

To me, the old heads complaining about players skipping bowl games, transferring out of a university, or taking millions of dollars in NIL deals created by a university are so far out of touch that it is laughable. 

ESPN College Gameday Co-Host Kirk Herbstreit brought a criticism that drew a reaction out of me. In the college gameday leading up to the Rose Bowl, Herbstreit talked about how this era of athletes opting out of their bowl games did not love the game.

Out of all the criticism, college athletes receive from old heads in the sport; I find opting out complaints anger me the most. Imagine working for your entire life for one goal, to make it to the pros where you can make millions and provide generational wealth for both you and your family. Then imagine that you are asked to play an optional game that could potentially hurt you and cost you those millions you’ve worked for.  

Why in the world would you take that risk? We have seen many athletes lose out on millions just because they played in their bowl game. 

 Linebacker Jaylon Smith was a projected top 5 pick in the 2016 NFL draft before he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. This injury dropped him to the second round, and it took him until 2017 to see the field again. 

A similar story happened to Michigan Tight End Jake Butt, who tore his ACL in the 2016 Orange Bowl, and it tanked his draft stock and completely derailed his career. 

It was ironic that after Herbstreit made his comments later that night, one of the top quarterbacks in the 2022 draft had his ankle rolled up on, knocking him out of the game. Luckily, he avoided a massive injury such as what happened to Butt or Smith, but it proved just how much of a risk these athletes are playing in these exhibition games. 

Maybe if there were not 39 bowl games to take part in, athletes would take the special ones seriously. These are not just students anymore. These athletes have spent the majority of their lives playing their respective sports. They deserve to make their business decisions just as you or I would.