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Opinion: When it Comes to Bowl Games, Skip Away

On Saturday, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit offered his two cents on players skipping out on bowl games, which led to quite the discussion on how people view college athletes.

College football, in its time, has been the lesser of two evils when compared to a money-hungry National Football League. 

Of course, there's going to be all sorts of things behind the scenes that make the amateur game deemed "less pure" by some standards. 

However, most (thanks to NIL) players still play for no paycheck, rather playing for what many would dub "the love of the game" and a small but still existing potential to earn a living by hitting the professional level. 

Yet 2021 (and 2022 now) are much different atmospheres thanks to advancements on and off the field, especially when it comes to bowl season and how those games are constructed. 

In 2015, the College Football Playoff was introduced. 

This was designed to put the power of crowning a national champion back into the hands of the people, rather than a computer system similar to the Bowl Championship System that showed many flaws during its time of use. 

Now, the regular season carries more meaning. Out-of-conference matchups, strength of schedule and other factors matter. 

However, when it comes to the overall landscape of bowl season, the drop-off in talent has alarmed football purists across the map thanks to an overwhelming amount of players opting out of one final game with their team to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft. 

Kirk Herbstreit Sounds Off

Former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, on the set of the Rose Bowl that featured plenty of players sitting out despite the prominence of the bowl game, made his thoughts and feelings heard on the topic. 

"What’s the difference as a player when saying these games are ‘meaningless’ when, Des, we played in ‘meaningless’ games," Herbstreit said on ESPN. "I mean I know you guys were here a lot. I just don’t understand. If you don’t make it to the playoff, how is it meaningless to play football and compete? Isn’t that what we do as football players? We compete?

"I don’t know if changing it or expanding it is going to change anything. I really don’t. I just think this era of player just doesn’t love football."

Correspondent Desmond Howard chipped in. 

"Their whole mentality is all about the championship or the playoff,” Howard said. 

“Because of that, they don’t value the bowl game. When we were coming up, Herbstreit and myself, going to a bowl game was a huge reward for a fantastic season. That’s what it meant. Your team played this well so you’re going to be rewarded with a bowl game, you’re going to get a ring, you’re going to get swag. 

"Now, kids don’t really care about that. They have a sense of entitlement. It’s like, ‘If we’re not going to the one that matters, it just doesn’t have as much value’ — like it did for us coming up.”

Herbstreit, after getting absolutely thrown through the fire of social media, would somewhat walk his comments back. 

However, the conversation had already been sparked, with plenty weighing in on the debate of whether or not those who opted not to play in the Tony the Tiger Bowl that holds no meaning on a Tuesday morning actually loved the game of football. 

Corral's Injury

The conversation shifted later in the evening when Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral suffered what may have been a serious leg injury in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor. 

Corral, who said himself he wanted to play in the bowl game for one last ride with his teammates, was heralded by people such as Herbstreit as the gold standard for the new generation.

Now Corral, who played in a bowl game that will likely be forgotten about by many six months from now, may have had his stock in the NFL Draft extremely impacted for the worse. 

Just to make one thing clear: Nobody is rooting against those who actually do play in bowl games. It's respectable, in the simplest of terms, to go out and play one last time with your teammates before departing for the NFL.

However, comments from those such as Herbstreit are . . . somewhat laughable. 

Cash Cows

Herbstreit is employed by ESPN, a huge proponent of the College Football Playoff and the rapid expansion of the overflowing pool of bowl games. 

You know, the two things that devalues the exact meaning of those non-playoff games? 

ESPN also aired all but one bowl game this bowl season. Don't you think they would have somewhat of a vested interest in having as many talented players compete in each game? 

But at the Rose Bowl, despite significant opt-outs on both sides, we got a packed stadium in what was probably the game of the season. That's awful hard for guys such as Herbstreit and Howard, who got a front-row seat to the action in Pasadena. 

Are the dots beginning to connect?

The main difference between players today and players of the generations before isn't the love of the game. It's the realization of their worth. 

College football players know they are commodities. Millions of dollars are made off of them each and every season. The show will go on with or without them. 

Why risk injury in a game that won't define legacies? 

It's a business move for players that has all but become a business for the people at the top. 

Loyalty to Whom?

A big word that has been thrown around with these conversations is loyalty. 

Let's make it very clear that these universities and coaches have no loyalty when it comes to a blank check. 

That's why coaches such as Lincoln Riley, Brian Kelly and Mario Cristobal among others departed their programs before their respective bowl games. 

Where's the outrage on why these coaches just don't love the game of football? Whatever happened to loyalty? Can you imagine a coach in the CFP doing this?

It's a rapidly changing landscape in college sports, one that prioritizes dollar signs. 

The College Football Playoff will eventually expand to six or eight teams just to squeeze in an extra "important" game even though it's become increasingly difficult to find the best four teams in the country, let alone more. 

New Era

The football we now consume is a product, and that's OK. We have more access to players, coaches and games than ever before. College football is a game meant to be enjoyed best on television. There's no mistaking the plethora of TV timeouts and why advertisers are willing to pay so much to have their brand associated with a game.

Players must do what's best for them. It's as simple as that. Because at the end of the day, the diluted amount of bowl games won't put the icing on the cake for your draft  status. 

Coaches won't necessarily do that, either. 

It's always a roll of the dice when it comes to leaving school and putting your name in the NFL draft. However, wouldn't you feel much more comfortable knowing you're 100% healthy to begin preparations and try to shed some time off your 40-yard-dash when all eyes are on you in Indianapolis?

College football has always been treated as a stepping stone for the NFL. Generations before are now upset players have realized that, too.