Have the Playoffs Ruined College Football Bowl Games? No.
How many times have we heard the assertion that the College Football Playoff system has "ruined" college football bowls? I don't actually need a number, because to me, once is too many.
The biggest cause for this uptick in complaining seems to be players skipping their bowl games. A few years ago Christian McCaffrey decided to skip Stanford's bowl game, and the same year LSU's Leonard Fournette skipped his bowl game. Then last year, Texas tackle Connor Williams left the team before his bowl game (he had a history of knee issues) and Florida State's Derwin James skipped out on Shreveport and the Independence Bowl...among other players who skipped out.
This year, the number of players skipping bowl games has reached double digits. The group is headlined by West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, LSU's Greedy Williams, Michigan's Rashan Gary, and Houston's Ed Oliver.
Some of these players will be missing MAJOR bowl games, including "New Year's Day 6" games. One step closer to a player skipping a playoff game...which is coming.
But people are blaming the wrong thing for these players skipping these bowl games.
People keep screaming that the Playoffs are cheapening the other bowl games, when in fact, those bowl games didn't play into the National Championship before the Playoffs either.
Look at the 1997 college football season, where even with two different teams being named "National Champion" there were still only two bowl games that mattered. That year, Michigan won the (real) National Championship, while Nebraska was also named the National Champion (in a UCF kind of way). Those two teams didn't play each other in a bowl game; Michigan played Washington State in the Rose Bowl, and Nebraska faced Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Michigan entered the bowl season #1, while Nebraska was #2. The #3 team was Tennessee, meaning if Michigan won, they were National Champs. If Michigan lost, and Nebraska won, they were champs, and if Michigan lost, and Tennessee won, they'd be #1. Meaning only two games were involved in naming the National Champion...less than HALF of the games involved in naming a National Champion with the playoffs.
In 1997, the Peach, Outback, Fiesta, Gator, Alamo, Carquest, Independence, Motor City, Sun, Cotton, Sugar, and all other bowls meant just as much as they do this year. But players weren't skipping those games. So what happened?
Well, from where I sit, two things.
1. People like JaMarcus Russel started getting contracts bigger than the GDP of small countries.
2. Willis McGahee, Jaylon Smith, and Jake Butt, all lost money by playing in bowl games.
In the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which was the National Championship game that year thanks to the BCS, Willis McGahee blew out his left knee. He tore his ACL, PCL, and MCL all at once. Before that injury, McGahee was a lock to be a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft, after the injury, he was lucky to be picked at #23 in the draft. That year the 5th pick got $18.4 million, McGahee got $7 million. Meaning playing in that bowl game cost him $11.4 million.
In 2016, tragedy struck a player in the Fiesta Bowl again. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was projected to be taken in the first 3 picks of that year's NFL Draft. Smith suffered an injury similar to McGahee, tearing his ACL and MCL, and suffering nerve damage in his knee. The injury was so bad, some experts suggested that Smith would never be able to play football again.
In that year's draft, the number 4 pick in the draft, Ezekiel Elliott, got a $24.9 million contract. Let's use him, because it's right around where Smith was expected to go, and it was the team that eventually drafted Smith, the Dallas Cowboys. Smith ended up going #34, outside of the first round, and WAY before most people expected him to be drafted. The Cowboys defied the experts (and got a great deal by the way) and took Smith earlier than they could have. He ended up signing for $6.4 million, meaning that injury likely cost him $18 million.
So next time someone says "these bowl games don't matter because of the playoffs", just ask them if they have ever heard of Willis McGahee.