The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Sports

College football's bowl season is upon us, raising the question: If the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl ceased to exist, would anyone notice? But occasionally these games produce news that deserves attention — such as when Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz benched his star player for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Wednesday.

Drinkwitz was not punishing Tyler Badie, who this season rushed for 1,604 yards, scored 18 touchdowns and was named to the All-SEC team. Just the opposite: He was looking out for his best interests.

Badie stands to reap a handsome windfall by entering the NFL draft. An injury, however, could derail that prospect. Drinkwitz refuses to take that risk. He thinks protecting his player is more important than winning a bowl game. "If you truly value your team like they're your own sons," he told reporters, "sometimes you look at things a little bit differently."

Badie is not the only standout player who will be watching his team's bowl game rather than participating. Texas A&M had to withdraw from the Gator Bowl after several starters opted out and others contracted COVID-19. Two Penn State linebackers are skipping their bowl, as are two SMU wide receivers. At least three Oklahoma starters will not be starting or finishing the Alamo Bowl.

Not all coaches approve of this trend. Mississippi State's Mike Leach fumed, "It's one of the biggest absurdities that I've seen, and it's selfish, too." You may remember Leach as the Texas Tech head coach fired after being accused of abuse by a player who selfishly made himself unavailable by sustaining a concussion.

It hasn't been long that players have had the nerve to look out for themselves rather than take uncompensated risks in meaningless games. In 2016, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey provoked criticism by sitting out their bowl games. Both went early in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, and the combined value of their contracts was $73 million. They also have gone on to success, and more riches, as pros.

Their story is different from that of Jaylon Smith, whose example they doubtless had in mind. A second-team All-American linebacker at Notre Dame, he was in line for the same sort of windfall — until he tore up his knee in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. He fell to the second round of that year's draft, costing him upward of $16 million.

If coaches want their best players to take the field for bowl games, they could persuade their university presidents to buy insurance policies to make up any financial losses resulting from injuries. Or they could use their own immense fortunes to do the same. But for some reason, they don't.

It's not as though the missed bowls matter. At one time, being invited to play in a bowl game was something special. Today, it's not really an honor; it's more of a disgrace not to make one. Nowadays, the chance to play on TV is not much of a lure, because the vast majority of regular season games are on TV.

If a college football player from 1970 came out of a 51-year coma, he would be astonished by the proliferation of post-season contests. Back then, there were 11 bowls. This year, 44 were scheduled. Why would a sensible young man jeopardize his livelihood for the sponsors of the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl?

It's also not as though the games won't be played — at least in a non-pandemic year. Most athletes are willing to play in bowls because 1) playing football is what they enrolled to do, 2) they feel an obligation to their coaches and teammates, or 3) it will give them a chance to impress their own coaches (for those who will be back next season) or NFL scouts (for those who are entering the draft).

Every player who pulls out of a bowl game creates an opportunity for another one to take the field instead of riding the bench. For reserves who get little if any playing time, the no-shows are an opportunity they otherwise wouldn't get.

Anyone who has a shot at getting an NFL contract has already helped his university reap huge sums of money and has good reason, at the close of his college career, to put his own interests first. True, there's no "I" in "team." But there are two in "millions."

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Aerial view of the newly renamed Crypto.com Arena

'Tis the season, right? Traditionally, the time around the winter solstice is one of reflection, spirituality and festivities — including Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.

In modern-day America, however, this season largely serves as a signal for the faithful to gather from afar in monumental temples to worship our nation's supreme secular deity: Big-Time Sports!

Get ready for weeks of being caught up in a nonstop frenzy of bowl games, pro football playoffs, soccer and more — with devout fans crisscrossing the nation in tribal pilgrimages to worship in their sacred stadiums and arenas. But whatever the sport, the name of the game these days is the same: M-O-N-E-Y.

Like other multibillion-dollar global corporate giants, the people's sport franchises are firmly in the grip of a self-regulating handful of secretive, uber-rich, autocratic owners. We might worship the team that actually plays the sport, but our money mostly goes to this ruling clique of billionaire barons.

Consider those gargantuan houses of worship where the games are played. We The People (including non-worshippers) paid for nearly all of them with tax dollars, usually with no chance to vote on the giveaway. Yet a few dozen profiteering team owners are given control of the venues. They set and collect the outrageous prices of tickets to enter and are even allowed to gouge the faithful by charging $15 for one small beer!

Most insulting, these rich public-welfare moochers pocket millions of extra dollars a year by turning these huge edifices (even those built with the people's money) into private billboards by selling off the so-called "naming rights" to the highest corporate bidders. Thus, dozens of major sports facilities dotting our land don't honor the cities they're in, the citizenry or even the team. Instead, they're gaudily plastered with corporate brand names like American Airlines Arena, FedEx Field, Gillette Stadium, Minute Maid Park, RCA Dome and Toyota Center — as though the venues are corporate-owned.

The money game is yet another corporate swindle, made even more corrupt by its expropriation of America's sporting spirit for private greed.

Advertising has been characterized as rattling a stick in a bucket — a noisy cry for public attention.

One example of this class of hucksterism is the rush by supposedly brilliant top executives of multibillion-dollar corporations to splatter their corporate names on sports venues.

Responding to a blatant scam by team owners, corporate executives are spending absurd sums of their shareholders' money to "win" temporary naming rights to local stadiums, arenas, etc. The come-on is that this billboarding will buy brand recognition, customer loyalty and even public gratitude for the purchaser.

Seriously? Do you fly Delta, bank at Wells Fargo or drive a Toyota because their names are on a big sports structure somewhere? And what do outfits like Ameriquest, Qualcomm and FTX even sell — and where are they located? As for public gratitude, ask Houstonians how thankful they are that global energy giant Enron slapped its name on the Astro's baseball park in 1999, just three years before the corporation was forced into bankruptcy for being guilty of massive fraud and squalid executive greed.

But the bucket-rattling name game keeps drawing new players. The latest entrants are purveyors of cryptocurrencies, the phantasmagoric, here-today-gone-tomorrow form of digital money. One of these, Crypto.com, has just laid out a ridiculous $700 million (presumably in real money, not "crypto") to put its occult brand name on the home arena of the Los Angeles Lakers. Why? The parties to the deal put it in grandiose terms — "a match made in heaven," exulted the arena's giddy owner, even proclaiming that Crypto.com will "help us chart a course for the future of sports."

Huh? I doubt that this cryptic, Singapore-based money dealer can even dribble a basketball, much less direct the sport's future! Like Enron and the rest, all it's doing is rattling the money bucket, turning sports into just another corporate money hustle.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.