In a few short days, college football’s bowl season will be alive and well. It will be two weeks of pure madness with games filled with intriguing matchups and some weird sponsors attached to the name. There is just one glaring problem: A lot teams each committee picked will be watered down to the point of being unrecognizable.
After the four-team College Football Playoff was announced, the remaining bowl eligible teams were assigned a destination to finish out the 2018 season. It’s great in theory. It always has been and likely will forever be the case for many programs. However, many of the star players are finding these glorified end-of-season showcases to be either a waste of time or not worth the risk of getting injured.
Less than two weeks before the Memphis Tigers face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, the program learned it will be without First-Team All-American running back Darrell Henderson Jr., who has opted to skip Memphis’ upcoming bowl game to pursue his NFL dream.
Nobody can fault the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Henderson, who compiled 1,909 rushing yards with 25 total touchdowns for the 8-5 Tigers in the AAC this season. More time to prepare for the NFL Combine will potentially mean a higher pick and bigger paycheck come the 2019 NFL Draft this spring.
“I will forever be grateful for my time at the University of Memphis and the opportunity it has provided me to achieve my dream of playing in the NFL. I want to thank Coach Norvell, Coach Dickey, Coach Silverfield, Coach Dillingham, Coach Jones, Coach Lorig, Coach Lock, and everyone in the Tigers Athletic Department for helping me grow as a man and as a football player. I also want to thank my family and all the Memphis fans for being so supportive during my college career. I will always be a Memphis Tiger and a proud alumnus of the University of Memphis. Go Tigers Go!” — Darrell Henderson, via Twitter
There you have it. Memphis football head coach Mike Norvell will be without his best offensive player for the December 22 bowl game.
Henderson is not the first player to skip his team’s bowl game to prepare for the NFL. The junior running back from Batesville, Mississippi just happens to be the latest.
LSU’s Greedy Williams is skipping the Fiesta Bowl against UCF. Michigan will play Florida in the Peach Bowl without defensive tackle Rashan Gary. South Carolina won’t have Deebo Samuel against Virginia in the Belk Bowl. Will Grier has opted out of West Virginia’s Camping World Bowl against Syracuse. The Armed Forces Bowl won’t feature Houston’s Ed Oliver. Iowa will have to try to score on Mississippi State without tight end Noah Fant. North Carolina State won’t be at full strength because wide receiver Kelvin Harmon and linebacker Germaine Pratt are sitting out the Gator Bowl against Texas A&M.
That’s a lot of Football Bowl Subdivision star players and potential first-round picks deciding to call it a college career before it is technically over.
It’s a shame, and it’s further proof college football has a serious bowl game problem right now.
Unless you are players on Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma in the CFP, these games are essentially meaningless. Pride is still at stake, of course, and universities generally make a good living off of these bowl games, but that’s not enough for these star players to risk a few million dollars by being injured.
Let’s not pretend this is the first year of this, either. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey did it as well, but this is a scary trend.
Either the NCAA’s playoff system needs to be fixed or players skipping bowl games will continue to happen at an alarming rate. There is no middle ground. Save the chatter that it helps give up-and-coming players more chances to practice for another day. It’s not going to help this argument or situation.
What once was a fun time of year has suddenly turned into a complete waste of time for players and fans alike if it’s not a championship game.