Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to college football players skipping bowl games to begin preparation for the NFL draft.
Just don't blame the player.
"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 then pretty soon all you guys are going to want to make it 16 teams, the only focus is on the playoff," Saban said in a news conference after the Crimson Tide's sixth of seven on-campus practices for the Peach Bowl national semifinal on New Year's Eve.
"When we all started this however many years ago it was, I said that you're going to diminish the importance of bowl games in college football, which has happened. All anybody talks about is the playoffs. We have a whole bunch of other bowl games that people don't think are all that important, and if you don't think it's important, all of a sudden, some players don't think it's important, so you can't really blame the players. We created this. OK? We created this."
LSU junior tailback Leonard Fournette announced in a news conference last Friday that he would not play in the Citrus Bowl against Louisville so he could get a head start on his professional career. Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards last season and was the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy until running into Saban's Crimson Tide, but a left ankle injury this year caused him to miss four games.
Stanford junior tailback Christian McCaffrey, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, announced Monday through social media that he would not play in the Sun Bowl against North Carolina. McCaffrey actually started to prepare to face the Tar Heels before reversing his decision.
On Tuesday, the leading rusher in Baylor University history, senior Shock Linwood, announced he would skip next week's Cactus Bowl against Boise State.
"I think it's sad, personally," former Georgia and current Miami coach Mark Richt told reporters Tuesday night after practice. "Football is the greatest team sport there is, and I think until the season is over, you should be with your team, really and truly.
"I bet their teammates are like, 'I understand. I understand,' face to face, but I bet you when they lay their head on the pillow, they're like, 'Why is that guy doing that? We're a team. We paid the price together.' It's sad."
Washington State coach Mike Leach was a guest Wednesday of Chattanooga's "Press Row" on ESPN 105.1 FM and called the decisions "a total act of selfishness."
Fournette, McCaffrey and Linwood choosing to sit out comes on the heels of last season's Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Notre Dame, when Irish linebacker and projected top-five pick Jaylon Smith tore anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Smith wound up being the 34th overall selection, tabbed early in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys, and Forbes.com reported this week that Smith's injury cost him $18.5 million.
Smith posted on Twitter this week, "Honestly, with everything I've been through, if I could go back to January 1st, I'd play again."
None of the four teams in the College Football Playoff — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington — have experienced any such departures. Nor does Saban expect any.
"We have a playoff now, and everybody's interested in the playoff," he said. "Nobody's interested in anything else, so now that it's trickled down to the players, how can you blame the players for that? I can't blame the players for that.
"Every player benefits from playing really well, and when you play in big games and play really, really well, it enhances your value as a player. Now every player will have to make the decision whether if that's more important relative to protecting yourself, and that's every player's choice."
Redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Keith Holcombe practiced Wednesday after leaving Tuesday's workout with an injury. The Crimson Tide will practice this morning before taking off for Christmas. They will return to Tuscaloosa on Monday and then travel to Atlanta that day.
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