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College Football Players Sit Out Bowl Games In Anticipation Of NFL Draft


We're in the thick of college football's bowl season - some 40 games that vary in prestige from tonight's Boca Raton Bowl to the big ones that determine who plays in the championship, like the Fiesta and Peach Bowls. For some fans, bowl season has lost a little shine in the last few days. Two prominent players said they would skip games to get ready for their pro careers. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: First it was LSU running back Leonard Fournette saying last Friday there will be no Citrus Bowl for him - sorry - Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Then yesterday, Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey tweeted this. Very tough decision, but I've decided not to play in the Sun Bowl so I can begin my draft prep immediately - two prominent players who dealt with injuries this season and who are considered high NFL draft picks - makes perfect sense, says Sports Illustrated college football writer Andy Staples.

ANDY STAPLES: Their teammates are OK with it. Their coaches are OK with it. They've given a lot of their body this season for their teams.

GOLDMAN: And the question for both - how much more of their bodies do they want to risk giving? The answer could cost millions.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Jaylon Smith down, and...

GOLDMAN: Before ESPN announcers knew the severity of Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith's knee injury in last season's Fiesta Bowl, they talked about the potential damage.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And you hope it's nothing serious with Smith not just for today, but there is a young man with a very bright future.

GOLDMAN: Jaylon Smith's torn knee ligaments in the bowl game dropped his draft position from a projected high first-round pick to the second round where the Dallas Cowboys took him. It cost Smith tens of millions of dollars. He is exhibit A for cautious players like Fournette and McCaffrey and more. Do their decisions mean an exodus of players from year-end bowl games? Andy Staples doesn't think so. He notes there are roughly 70 players on each of the 80 teams playing in the bowls.

STAPLES: So that's 5,600 players. Two of them have opted out. You know what percentage that is - four-hundredths of 1 percent.

GOLDMAN: Staples also thinks both McCaffrey and Fournette would play if their teams were in the College Football Playoff to decide the national championship. That's hardly a surprise to college football fans who know there's a hierarchy when it comes to bowl games. The Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl just doesn't resonate like the Rose Bowl or Orange Bowl. But don't tell that to Bernie Olivas. He's executive director of the Sun Bowl, the one Christian McCaffrey's going to miss.

BERNIE OLIVAS: To who aren't they important? You ask any football player who goes to any bowl. I think 99 percent of college athletes would prefer to go to a bowl rather than stay home.

GOLDMAN: That includes Texas A&M defensive lineman Myles Garrett. He's projected by some experts as this year's top draft pick, and he says he's looking forward to playing in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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