A Candid Opinion: CFB Playoff must expand to lessen bowl-game opt-outs
Sean Clark provides his take on the trend of college football stars opting out of bowl games.
College Football has a serious issue that has become prevalent during the last few years.
Star players who are slated to become high draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft are opting out of bowl games to prevent a serious injury that could derail their draft stock.
The case of Jaylon Smith started to display the risk of playing in a non-College Football Playoff game. Heading into the 2016 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, the Notre Dame Butkus Award winning linebacker was projected to be a top-five pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Those aspirations came crashing down as in the game, Smith suffered a torn ACL and MCL. This not only prevented him from partaking in the pre-draft workouts, but also pushed him out of the first round entirely.
In a draft where the top-seven picks all became pro bowlers, Smith slid all the way to 34th-overall, costing him millions of dollars in rookie salary. He ended up missing the entire 2016 NFL season.
Ever since then, the amount of star players that have opted out of bowl games have increased, hitting its peak in 2021 to the point where even Kirk Herbstreit is criticizing these players publicly on College Gameday.
During the 2021-22 bowl season, many star players opted out of the New Year’s Six Bowls, including Ohio State wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, etc.
On the other hand, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral chose to play for the Rebels in the Sugar Bowl, but got injured during the game.
With the outrage this has caused, there are two different sides of the argument about whether star players should opt out of non-playoff bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft.
For those that are for players opting out, their reasoning is simple. If players skip the bowl games that don’t lead to a championship, they prevent the risk of injuries for games that don’t count toward the chase for the national title. This reduces the risk of injuries diminishing draft stock like Smith’s back in 2016.
On the other hand, those against the opt outs have a few counter arguments. The opt-outs ruin the spectacle of the bowl games, it goes against the competitive nature of sports and it is a waste to opt out when there is only one life to live on this earth, so everyone should do as much as they can.
It is clear that with the current playoff format that the New Year’s Six Bowls are nowhere near as hyped or anticipated as the old BCS Bowls were. So as a result, players with futures on the line do not feel the NY6 Bowls are worth the risk, which was not a problem during the BCS Era.
There is a clear solution: to prevent players from opting out, college football needs to expand their playoff from four to 12 teams.
Doing this would allow players from the top 12 teams to compete for a championship, which is ultimately the goal of every athlete. Much fewer opt outs would occur because players have the opportunity to play championship football.
In college basketball, players rarely if ever opt out of postseason basketball with its tournament style, especially March Madness. That event gives the players big-time postseason experience that helps them compete for a championship and grow their draft stock under the watchful eyes of the country.
Opt-outs are not a problem in college basketball because the postseason is not set up to produce a bunch of scrimmage-like games that don’t matter when it comes to the championship picture. All 68 teams that make March Madness have a chance at the national title, providing peak entertainment in sports.
So for college football, they must adjust with the times and expand the playoff format. While this would change up the schedule, it prevents a mass number of opt-outs while elevating the number of playoff games from three to 11.
Looking at the top-12 teams in the final CFB Playoff rankings in 2021, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh (if the new format locks in each Power 5 conference champion) would play significant games in the playoff and as a result, Hamilton (who may have played if Notre Dame had made the playoff), Olave, Wilson and Pickett would most likely have participated.
This makes more interesting and high-profile college football bowl games as not only do the star players play, but it creates more opportunities for teams outside the top four to compete for the national title against the regulars such as Alabama and Georgia. Players would take advantage of the higher stakes of the expanded playoff system and continue playing.
With the current format of the CFB Playoff, players will continue to opt out of NY6 Bowl games. The only way to prevent this and keep the high-profile players playing postseason football is to expand the playoff, just like March Madness keeps all their star players on their respective teams.