Business before team

Kyle Riviere
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. Photo courtesy of

To play, or not to play? That is now a legitimate question, thanks to Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey.

Last week, McCaffrey created a stir in the world of sports when he announced that he would be skipping Stanford's bowl game to prepare himself for the NFL Draft, despite being healthy and capable of playing.

This was an unprecedented move by McCaffrey. Never before have we seen a college football player voluntarily decide to skip a bowl game to preserve himself for the draft.

His decision was a polarizing one.

All week, former players, coaches, analysts and those on social media chimed in and gave their two cents on the matter. Many supported McCaffrey's decision. Many hated it, questioning his loyalty to his teammates.

Not long after his declaration, Baylor running back Shock Linwood announced that he would do the same. He chose to skip his team's bowl game to prepare for the draft, despite being 100 percent.

During the week, many have lumped LSU's Leonard Fournette in with McCaffrey and Linwood. Some have even gone so far as to accuse him of being selfish and not being a team player, but that is extremely unfair to Fournette.

Fournette's case is totally different. He is not 100 percent. He hasn't been all season.

Fournette sustained a significant ankle injury two weeks before the season opener against Wisconsin, and the injury has never fully healed. Just when he would feel good enough to start, he would tweak it all over again.

He ended up being forced to sit out four games and was limited to just 129 carries this season.

Even now, he says that he is only at about 85 percent.

That's why he's making the right decision to sit out of the Citrus Bowl. He needs the down time to finally let his ankle heal. If he plays on New Year's Eve, it's pretty much a guarantee that he'll reinjure it.

You can't say the same thing about McCaffrey. Unlike Fournette, he's at full strength.

He had to miss a game earlier this season, but ever since then, he was been his old self. In Stanford's final five games, he averaged 198 yards per contest.

McCaffrey is his own man. It's his career, which means it's totally his decision. He can choose to do whatever he feels is right for him.

I just don't like his decision.

I'm a firm believer in finishing what you started.

You played in 12 games. Now, there is just one game left on the schedule. If you're healthy, go out and finish.

I see where McCaffrey is coming from. I know the sentiment behind his decision, but it's just not a good look. The look it gives off is that you're more important than your teammates, that you're going to let them play while you go do you.

Supporters of McCaffrey's decision have argued, "Hey, it's just the Sun Bowl. It's a meaningless game."

By that faulty rationale, McCaffrey should have skipped the last few games of the season. At that point, it was obvious that Stanford was not going to qualify for the Pac 12 title game.

He played in those games. Is it really so much to ask he play in one more?

The greatest bargaining chip McCaffrey has is what happened to Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith last year.

In the Fiesta Bowl, the projected top-10 pick tore his ACL and LCL

Despite the serious injury, Smith was still selected No. 34 overall by the Cowboys. He still signed a deal worth $6.5 million. Smith will also collect on a $900,000 insurance policy he signed before the bowl.

Last week, Smith tweeted: "Honestly. With everything I’ve been through, if I could go back to Jan. 1, I’d play again.”

Back in the 2003 national title game, Miami running back and projected top-five pick Willis McGahee tore his ACL, MCL and PCL.

Still, McGahee was drafted No. 23 overall by the Bills. He went on to have a successful 11-year NFL career that culminated in two Pro Bowl selections.

Like Smith, last week, McGahee said that he would play in a bowl game all over again--even if it was a "second-tier" bowl. He went on to say that the loyalty you get from your college team is worth more than all the NFL money in the world.

My point exactly.

No one is asking you to come back and play your senior year. You're simply being asked to finish, to play the final game on the schedule with your teammates.

The money will be waiting for you when those three and a half hours are over.

Even if the improbable occurs and things go sideways, Smith and McGahee are both prime examples that you'll still get paid. You'll still be well on your way to achieving your NFL dream.

You're a football player. So, play football.