Nothing good has come from players deciding to opt out of their team’s college bowl games. And nothing will. Luckily there are reasons to believe the number of opt-outs will decrease going forward.
Thoughts on the Future of College Football Opt-Outs
The Team The Team The Team
Every good article should have at least one reference to former Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler, right?
More than any other TEAM sport, football relies on every player to do their job. Each side has 11 players on the field at all times.
Even the best quarterback, best running back, best wide receiver, best defensive lineman, best linebacker, and best member of the secondary is successful because of what their teammates have contributed on the field. It seems as if the players opting out of their bowl games have forgotten this. We didn’t mention kickers or punters but that belies the point.
There are legitimate reasons the trend could be about to reverse itself.
The College Football Playoff Is Expanding Next Season
As the College Football Playoff enters a new era beginning in 2024, eight more teams will be playing for a national championship every year. There’s no going back to the four-team format. Simply put, that means more games matter.
Star players will be under increasing pressure to suit up and play when their teams make the final cut of 12 teams.
If and when it happens (which it will) that a star player decides to opt out when his team is in the playoff, expect the reaction to be decidedly negative. That reaction will prevent that decision from becoming a trend.
It also won’t fly if a player who opts out in the first round of the playoff then decides he wants to play as his team gets closer to a championship. It only takes one teammate or one coach to speak out against the opt-outs before others think it’s okay and joins them.
Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much pushback from those who provide the money for the bowl games to happen in the first place. Sponsors, fans who purchase tickets, food at the games, and merchandisers all should start speaking up with their wallets.
It wouldn’t hurt the integrity of the game for the TV networks to speak up as well. The old argument that the players are being taken advantage of by not getting paid is no more. Anyone who thinks bowl game opt-outs don’t hurt attendance and ratings isn’t paying attention.
The expansion of the College Football Playoff will only diminish the importance of bowl games outside of the New Year’s Six which will include the quarterfinals and semifinals leading up to the championship.
The Players Can Now Afford To Protect Themselves
One of the significant impacts of the recent court ruling allowing players to be compensated for NIL (name, image, and likeness) is that now they have the ability to pay for insurance policies against catastrophic injury out of their own pockets. That doesn’t mean the players will want to spend their own money but they can and that’s the point.
This also takes away from the legitimacy of a player making the decision to skip a bowl game because they have entered the Transfer Portal. The players are still opting out for this reason but it really makes no sense. Former Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa recently opted out of the Terps bowl game against Auburn even though he has no eligibility left, has applied for a sixth year of eligibility with the NCAA, and announced his intention to transfer. Why opt out?
Pushback Is Coming
Any time a new trend begins, sentiment usually favors one side and the players opting out of bowl games is no exception. Currently, sentiment is strongly on the side of the players.
That sentiment is going to change. Not only because the players are now getting paid for their services, but because there is so much money being invested into the bowl games.
Recently Kirk Herbstreit from ESPN suggested getting rid of most of the bowl games outside of the playoff. That simply isn’t going to happen. Players, coaches, fans, and school administrators love going to the games. Even the players who opt out show up on the sidelines in their jerseys.
A lot has changed in the landscape of college football in the past couple of years with the opt-outs, NIL, conference realignment, and the expansion of the playoff. Expect even more changes going forward although some are difficult to predict.
One thing we can predict is that the trend of so many players deciding to forego their team’s bowl games will lose steam and begin to reverse itself. And that is good for the game of college football.