Gil LeBreton

Bad semantics, but right idea behind college stars skipping bowl games

Arlington Martin grad and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, left, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, has affirmed that he will play in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28.
Arlington Martin grad and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, left, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, has affirmed that he will play in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28. AP

Did you hear the one about the Aggie who was willing to risk a guaranteed four-year, $28 million NFL contract, just to play against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl?

Stunningly, this is not a joke.

But it should be. Before Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, throws any more shade at Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey, he might want to Google the sad tale of Jaylon Smith.

Linebacker Smith was expected to be one of the first five players selected in the 2016 draft. But in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, Smith suffered multiple traumatic injuries to his left knee.

Smith hasn’t played a down of football since.

The Dallas Cowboys took a chance on Smith’s recovery and drafted him in the second round, 34th overall. But the difference in guaranteed rookie contract money is said to have cost Smith anywhere from $15-20 million.

LSU’s Fournette and Stanford’s McCaffrey have both announced that they are skipping their team’s upcoming bowl games in order to “prepare for the NFL Draft.”

Bad semantics, perhaps, but the right idea. Fournette and McCaffrey, both running backs, have dealt with injuries during the season. Fournette, in particular, injured his left ankle in preseason drills and missed four games.

The difference in guaranteed rookie contract money is said to have cost Jaylon Smith anywhere from $15-20 million following his injury.

Garrett also battled an ankle injury and missed games. But he has affirmed that he will play in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28.

Good for him. All risks considered, a college athlete should have the right to decide on his own.

But get used to this. The playoff system — even in its abbreviated, three-game form — has rendered the other bowl games as meaningless exhibitions.

Players, influenced by agents or their own assessments of their NFL chances, are more and more going to abstain from risking their future careers to play in an extra game.

A prominent, Rose Bowl-winning local football coach warned of as much two years ago. My question at that time was about an expanded championship playoff. But TCU’s Gary Patterson suggested that as more games were expected of college players, some might defer.

Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin lauded Garrett’s decision this week but noted, “I don’t think that it should be a shock to anybody that this is happening. Things were different 20 years ago, and does that make it right or wrong? It’s not for me to say because we’re not in those positions and making those kinds of decisions.”

The playoff system — even in its abbreviated, three-game form — has rendered the other bowl games as meaningless exhibitions.

Fournette ended his LSU career with 616 carries in three seasons, totaling 3,830 yards and 40 touchdowns. Even with the ankle injury this season, he rushed for 284 yards in 16 carries against Ole Miss.

Garrett’s teasing remark this week — “Leonard’s been trying to leave since his sophomore year” seems ludicrous. An injured back who’s “trying to leave” carried the ball 187 times for 1,034 yards?

It’s understandable, I suppose, that projected top-pick Garrett wants to play one more college football game. I’d be in no hurry to get to Cleveland, either.

College football players work hard for their scholarships. Their one decision with any semblance of leverage may be whether or not to play in what amounts to an exhibition bowl game in Memphis or Albuquerque.

Get used to those awkward decisions.

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Jaylon Smith continues his rehab assignment during the morning walk through at Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, CA, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)

Garrett, an Arlington Martin graduate, was one of 15 football players who took part in an A&M mission trip to Haiti this spring. He said the experience was rewarding personally and helped bond the team in ways it needed after last year's late seas

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