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Bowl game opt-outs are not a bad thing

We’ve seen it happen already in professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL. Now, the balance of power is shifting in college football.

No longer are players beholden to their “corporate masters” — their respective universities and athletic departments. More and more, players like Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett and Ohio State receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will opt out of playing in relatively meaningless bowl games in order to preserve their bodies and draft stock as they begin preparation for the NFL Draft.

Like it or not, player opt outs will continue to happen more and more, and these players should have the freedom to do whatever is in their best interests.

One need not look any further than Saturday night’s Sugar Bowl matchup between Ole Miss and Baylor to see why. Rebels’ QB Matt Corral was carted off the field with a right leg injury in the first quarter against the Bears. After the game, ESPN reported that Corral’s X-ray came back negative and that he had sprained his ankle.

He’s fortunate that his injury wasn’t worse than that. Most rankings have Corral as one of the top quarterback prospects available in the 2022 draft class. A more severe injury likely would have significantly hampered his ability to prepare for the draft and showcase his talents for NFL scouts and could have damaged his draft stock.

Corral isn’t the only one.

Miami quarterback D’Eriq King tore his ACL in the 2020 Cheez-It Bowl. Then in 2016, former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was regarded as a consensus top-five pick. He tore his ACL and LCL in the Fighting Irish’s bowl game and wasn’t drafted until the second round. Had Smith been drafted No. 5 overall, he would have received a fully guaranteed 4-year deal worth about $23.5 million. Instead, he signed a 4-year $6.5 million deal with $4.5 million of that guaranteed.

NIL was a start for college athletes, but the NFL is where the real money is — it always has been and the players know that.

These players are on the verge of changing their lives and providing generational wealth to their families. In the words of former Ohio State defensive back Marcus Williamson, “you work hard, you should be paid.”

Choosing not to risk their health playing a shortened season with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, several players like former Northwestern OL Rashawn Slater, former Penn State LB Micah Parsons and former LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the entire 2020 season. They decided it was in their best interests to preserve their bodies and spend time getting ready for the draft — a decision that worked out for each of them.

Chase and Parsons are favorites for the NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards, respectively, while Slater was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Chargers.

The fact that handsomely-paid pundits and talking heads — looking at you, Kirk Herbstreit — have the audacity to look into a camera and question a player’s “love of the game” because they opted out of a bowl game is despicable.

Just because a player opts out doesn’t mean he loves football any more or less than anyone else. It’s a business decision, and a personal one at that.

These players aren’t “quitting on their team” either. Quitting on your team is what Antonio Brown did when he ripped off his jersey and pads on the Buccaneers’ sideline Sunday and ran to the locker room and left the stadium with his team down a score late against the Jets.

Increased player empowerment is the new wave and opt outs will only continue and in greater numbers as players decide to do what’s best for them and their families.

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