Alabama coach Nick Saban thinks the College Football Playoff and the media’s attention towards it is to blame for why players are deciding to skip out on lower-tier bowl games.
Saban was asked Wednesday about the decisions of LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey to not play in their teams’ bowl games to instead prepare for the NFL. The question led to this (misguided) answer, which we’ll print in full.
I will say this, I think when we created the playoff, which all of you wanted to do and all of you wanted to make it four teams. And now all of you want to make it eight teams and pretty soon all of you guys are going to want to make it 16 teams. And the only focus is on the playoff.
But when we all started this, however many years ago it was, I said that you’re going to diminish the importance of other bowl games in college football, alright? Which has happened. That has happened. All anyone talks about is the playoff. Alright, we have a bunch of other bowl games that people don’t think are all that important so if you don’t think it’s important, all of the sudden some players don’t think it’s important. So you can’t really blame the players. We created this, OK? We created this.
It used to be to go to the Rose Bowl — when you played in the Big Ten that was the ultimate of any experience that you could ever have. If you played in the SEC, going to the Sugar Bowl was that same thing. If you played in the Big 12, it was going to the Orange Bowl. So those things don’t exist anymore. We have a playoff, everyone’s interested in the playoff, no one is interested in anything else.
So now that that’s trickled down to the players, how can you blame the players for that? I can’t blame the players for that. I think what every player has to decided — and I would say every player — is I think every player probably benefits from playing really, really well. So I think when you play in big games and you play really, really well, I think that enhances your value as a player. That’s what I think. Now every player would have to make the decision between is that more important relative to protecting yourself. And I think that’s every player’s choice and I think that’s every player’s decision and I don’t know that there’s much more to say about it than that.
It’s not the first time Saban has talked about how the attention paid to the playoff has cost the other bowl games. In May of 2015 he said that the minimized interest in other bowl games compared to the playoff was what he “feared the most would happen.”
But it’s still an unfounded fear from our perspective.
While Saban is right that college football helped create the trend, his blame of the playoff is misplaced. Players are skipping games because they realize they have the power to do so. And that realization has come in the era of the playoff. Player attempts to unionize at Northwestern didn’t happen because the Big Ten won the first iteration of the playoff. Cost of attendance stipends at many schools didn’t happen because of the playoff. Players realizing they could legitimately threaten to boycott games didn’t happen because of the playoff.
Games like the Sun Bowl and the Citrus Bowl are no less meaningful with the playoff than they were with the BCS. The playoff simply changed the national championship structure. Games outside the BCS and Playoff structure weren’t impacted whatsoever when the Playoff was implemented. We dare you to try to think of things that have changed for the Sun Bowl and Citrus Bowl since the playoff’s inception in 2014.
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