If I were playing for Stanford in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 in El Paso, that’s what I’d say to Christian McCaffrey, if he were to support his former teammates from the sideline. McCaffrey has decided to forego his final collegiate game in hopes of preventing injury, and take some extra time to prepare for the NFL Draft. A new standard has been set in college football.
It’s more likely that McCaffrey will be in the stands, or a private box at Sun Bowl Stadium, when his former teammates take on Mitch Trubisky and the UNC Tarheels. Trubisky has publically announced that he will delay his NFL decision until after the bowl game, to avoid distracting his teammates from their last game together.
The implications of McCaffrey’s decision have divided sports media, the Cardinal faithful, and his teammates. Arguments reference contracts of Coaches leaving early, players opting out of their senior season, or the shady business of NCAA as a “non-profit” enterprise. A greater, complex discussion of college football has erupted. But for football purists, none of that matters. The simple issue is that at the collegiate level, an athlete plays for one of two reasons: 1) for his/her team, 2) for his/her self. McCaffrey chose option two.
He certainly has this right. His decision will not tarnish one of the elite careers in the history of Stanford football. But the line in the sand has been cemented: college football is a business, for players as much as anyone else.
Many have brought up his health. An injury could cost McCaffrey millions in the NFL. Fine. That’s business. Try explaining that to his teammates, who don’t have as many dollars on the line, but they’re risking their bodies just the same. And although anecdotes are not science, Jaylon Smith – the case many have referenced, since his bowl game injury affected his draft status – seems to understand football on a more authentic level:
Honestly. With Everything I’ve been through, If I could go back to Jan. 1st I’d play again. #ClearEyeView
— Jaylon Smith (@thejaylonsmith) December 20, 2016
The axiom that football teaches character is false. Rather, football provides a platform for intentional teachers and coaches to teach character. Football should also teach empathy and delay-of-gratification: two qualities that research links to lifelong success. In regards to empathy, think of the players he referred to as his “brothers” so many times…those whose career will end before the New Year. For years they have worked with you, alongside you, for you, Christian. They want to finish strong. As for delay-of-gratification, well…
Despite the most recent business decision, McCaffrey seems to be a quality human being and a big time player. I’ll be following his career in the NFL—I’d love to see him play for my hometown Chicago Bears. I’ll buy his jersey. And years from now, when ESPN 30 for 30 runs a documentary on The Boy Who Toppled College Football, I’ll tune in. I’ll tell my kids that I was there when it happened. I saw the wall coming down.
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