Stanford junior running back Christian McCaffrey has decided to skip the Sun Bowl, where his team will square off against North Carolina, to begin his NFL draft preparation. So is this a good thing? A wise and prudent move? Or should he be criticized for it? Opinions vary. Let's look at some of the pros and cons.
The pay thing. Like any college athlete, McCaffrey wouldn't make a dime for participating in a bowl game. His all-around productivity while at Stanford speaks for itself. Few would question he's among the best running backs available to the NFL, having been the runner-up for the Heisman award last year and putting up impressive stats this season as well. So some team will draft him, likely high, and he'll become an instant millionaire as soon as his signature is dry on the contract.
Chance of injury. McCaffrey was dinged up with an "unknown" ailment earlier this season which forced him to miss a game against Notre Dame. In the roll of the dice world of running backs, which absorb so much punishment, one never knows when any given hit could end his football career. Representing his team, and school, in the Sun Bowl exposes him one more time to the unthinkable. Blow out a knee and kiss millions good-bye. While unlikely, it could happen. So why run the risk?
Arguments have been made, and the noise is recently getting louder, that football players, especially stars at major universities, should get paid for their services. After all, the schools make a lot of money off their work, by packing fans into the stadiums, selling their merchandise, etc. It may or may not happen in the future, but this is something that McCaffrey never enjoyed during his time at Stanford. However, that's a debate for another day.
These are all valid reasons why McCaffrey has every right, and probably should do exactly what he plans on doing.
Idle thought: If old Frankie Blue Eyes wanted us to believe "I did it my way", then why did he swipe his signature song from Paul Anka instead of writing his own? Or WAS that his way? Hmmm.
But there's another side as well.
When McCaffrey signed on to his scholarship offer at Stanford, like any other "student-athlete", he reaped rewards as well.
Free tuition, free housing in a dorm, free food, free books, free access to computers to aid him in his studies, free library and labs if necessary, and most of all the free education in whatever field he chose. All told, this is likely hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of freebies that a non-athlete and/or his parents would have to pay out of pocket, or borrow to be paid back later.
While the school was enjoying the cha-chings a player like McCaffrey afforded them, he also reaped the rewards of playing in world class facilities, travelling to many cities on free road trips, being seen on television and otherwise garnering the media attention playing for a school like Stanford. In other words, they benefited from each other. Without the college, who would have ever heard of Christian McCaffrey?
Right or wrong, NFL rules stipulate a player has to be three years removed from high school to be eligible to play in their league. So sans Stanford, or any other school he may have chosen, what options did McCaffrey have if he wanted to play professional football in America? Sit out for three years doing nothing but training and watching game tapes? We all know that wouldn't work. The pros would drop him off their radar faster than a torpedoed canoe. They want to see what a player can do in college against, the best of the best former high school players before they'd even give him a glance at the next level.
Nobody forced a player like McCaffrey to go to college. He chose it, with the scholarship and everything that went along with it. And part of that deal was certainly representing his school in the best way he could.
To bail on them on the eve of a bowl game, the highlight of any season for any football team, with the maximum exposure that comes with it, would seem to be a double-cross. A betrayal when his teammates and coaches needed him the most.
In a perfect world, at least for Stanford, McCaffrey would lead his team to a rousing victory in the Sun Bowl while racking up personal gaudy stats, which would improve his NFL draft status. He could come back to campus one last time and enjoy the adoration that would surely be bestowed upon him. And THEN get ready for the NFL combine and whatever town he landed in after the draft. Further, on some level, wouldn't the brass of a pro team wonder just a little bit about his loyalty in the future, given what he's doing right now?
And doesn't he owe the school at least one last go-round after all it's done for him in the last three years?
Maybe. Maybe not.
It's a tough call, and people on either side of the issue have valid points.
Here's wishing him the best, however it works out.