“It’s that wonderful old-fashioned idea that others come first and you come second.
This was the whole ethic by which I was brought up.
Others matter more than you do, so ‘don’t fuss, dear; get on with it’.”
(UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship)
Anyone who knows me, knows I love college football!
I’d say it was simply because of an innate love that was passed down to me from the sports-loving
genes of my dad…
but since I’m adopted…it must simply be from the gene pool of another.
But that’s the thing, my dad loved college football.
He lived and breathed for New Year’s day…that holy day of all things football.
I’ve written about this love affair of his before.
Back in the dark ages, back to the time of my youth…those early heady days of the 1960’s…
it was a time before things like a picture within a picture, split screens, Hulu, red zones…
or even color TV for that matter…were a thing.
My dad would haul every TV in our house into the den so he could
have all three major networks playing simultaneously…just so he wouldn’t
miss the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl or the Sugar Bowl…
or any other bowl game that was airing.
I obviously inherited that love by osmosis I suppose.
And as I’ve settled in to enjoy this year’s bowl season, I must confess, I have a few issues.
Issues such as the way the powers that be have set up this playoff mishmash.
The top 1, 2, 3 and 4 teams that are all vying for the top prize are sitting pretty
while other very deserving teams are left out of the coveted top 4 positions.
Cinderellas with no invitation to the ball.
And on top of that wouldn’t you know it…those powers that be also wrote in a little clause for this
playoff business that it can’t be revisited for discussion for at least 12 years.
I just don’t find it fair for those undefeated teams who are passed over–think Central Florida…
teams unable to have any sort of chance to participate in a playoff with the argument being that they don’t
play the same caliber of teams as say those top seeds.
But I’m thinking that if you are a Division 1 team…
then should not all Division 1 teams have an equal opportunity for the coveted trophy of
You’re not Division 1 for nothing right?
Be they a Notre Dame, a Central Florida, a Boise State or an Alabama.
But such decisions were not left to me to decide.
And no one ever said life was fair.
There is, however, another more troubling issue that leaves me particularly unsettled this bowl season.
Something that boils down to a fine line between selfish self-preservation and that of selflessness
along with the simple love of the game.
The trouble is with the current mindset of those players who are currently draft-eligible and who
have decided to opt out of their perspective team’s bowl games.
Opting out and deciding not to play— preferring rather to sit out the game lest they get hurt and mess
up their chances for a nice high draft position.
This little predicament is leaving their coaches and teammates scrambling to fill in the
gaps before a major televised ball game.
Do bowl games even matter?
Well they matter to rankings and they matter to monies earned by schools for ticket sales
and they matter for future recruiting.
Plus they matter for the bragging rights of being a top alfa dog for a year.
Many of these kids who are going to school are on scholarships…
having earned a coveted “paid for” position on the team.
They, in turn, for the most part, have free food, free books and free tuition for their
wanting to play football.
But of course, it is their option and choice to go to a school to play.
And they usually opt to go to the school who offers them the most buck for their bang.
Hard work and talent leads them to this choice.
(now there are other sports and other scholarships, but I am focusing on football only)
The NFL, however, dangles bigger carrots in front of the faces of these kids
than whatever a college could dare offer.
Thus a kid can and at times is encouraged to “quit” school, in order to enter the draft.
“Oh you can always go back and earn a degree later, but you can only play at the top of your
game for a limited time” rings the argument.
According to the NFL official rules,
“To be eligible for the draft, players must have been out of high school for at least three years
and must have used up their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season.
Underclassmen and players who have graduated before using all their college eligibility may request the
league’s approval to enter the draft early.
Players are draft-eligible only in the year after the end of their college eligibility.
We are actually seeing sophomores who are eligible for the draft, forgoing the thought of finishing
playing four or five years for their school while earning a degree…all just to play for the NFL.
While the thoughts of “fame and fortune” dancing enticingly around the heads of these young men.
There are those who try to justify this phenomenon.
They argue the notion of hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars,
being the greatest incentive as to why so many of these “impoverished” or struggling kids want
to move on.
Yet the respected retired coach of the Colts and now a football commentator, Tony Dungy, in his book
Quiet Strength notes the high percentage of NFL players who eventually end up divorced, broke or both.
Noting that all that glitters is not necessarily gold nor does it last.
Yet many argue that a large number of these kids come from broken homes or impoverished homes,
and are living on the edge of either succumbing to and falling through the cracks to things like
gangs and trouble if they aren’t given such wonderful financial incentives.
While very few seem to be singing the praises of rising above the negative by earning a degree and
finding success outside of sports.
Like Coach Dungy, I don’t buy the empty arguments of the hurry up and join the glamour of the
NFL mentality and I don’t fall for the money carrot argument.
Oh I get it and I see it but I don’t find it a viable argument…
that being that this is their only ticket out of a life considered less than.
I personally think a college degree will help a great deal more with forging a life that is content
and fulfilled verses that of a draft pick.
However, the draft pick promises the big bucks fast while the degree and the eventual job
will be a slower building to that long sense of security.
I think it is a poor precedence allowing players to opt out of playing for their school’s respective
bowl game just so they don’t get hurt and mess up jockeying for a draft position.
We are doing kids such a huge disservice when we cut them slack from the responsibility they
have to their school, to their team and to their teammates when we “allow” them the “right” of opting out
of a commitment because the money carrot has dangled early and most brightly.
Case in point Michigan had about 4 or 5 kids sitting out their bowl game against Florida.
The Gators won and I’m not complaining as I like to see fellow SEC schools win but
I feel that those boys who opted to sit out their final game of the year,
a game that was an honor as their team had won the right to play in a bowl game,
yet, in turn, they let down their fans, their coaches and their teammates…
for selfish and self-preserving reasons.
One player, however, a young man who is also draft eligible, and who needs surgery following the
season before participating in the draft, stated that he was indeed disappointed by his teammate’s
decision to sit out and that he would have to be dead not to play the final game for
his school and team.
Now that is a young man who has a love of the game and a sense of responsibility to and
for his team, his coaches and his school.
He has a team mentality.
And maybe that’s what’s missing.
We are no longer teaching responsibility or duty or honor, or even sportsmanship or what it
means to be a part of a team, a part of something bigger than ourselves…
We see this at the college level, at the high school level and now, sadly, at the
little league level.
It’s called the trickle down effect.
We have allowed our sports to become bigger than the various games themselves.
And in turn, we have lost those team building qualities that instill in both
young men and women the meaning of selflessness and that there are things greater in life
then that of the individual.
As in it takes a team to win a game, not merely one player.
Just another reason as to why I hate those end zone theatrics.
There is no room for showboats on a team full of individuals who work together to make those
successful moments for the team as a whole.
Rodrigo Blankenship is a kicker for the University of Georgia who was a walk-on and redshirt
After his first year with stats that would make veteran kickers envious, 26 for 26 kicks,
he was informed that he would not be receiving a scholarship.
He might be offered one the following year but that was by no means a guarantee.
Most kids and their families would consider transferring over such news.
Transferring to a school that would give a scholarship as the family could certainly use the
To have worked as hard as he had worked helping aid the team week after week in consecutive
wins throughout the season,
yet to be denied monetary assistant when those all around him had long been given their
scholarships, was news hard to swallow.
Yet Blankenship loved his team and his school.
He wanted to stay, despite the snub by the School’s Athletic Association.
“In 2017, when Blankenship was a redshirt sophomore, he hit a 30-yard field goal with 3:34
remaining to give Georgia a 20-19 lead against Notre Dame.
The Bulldogs won the game by that score, and the post-game locker room scene included Blankenship
proudly announcing to his team, upon a prompt from Smart,
“I’m on scholarship,” followed by a roar of celebration.
(Red and Black)
There are thankfully all sorts of stories like Rodrigo’s…
stories of selfless players who persevere without the rewards of glamour or money
but the sad fact remains that there are currently a good many players across this country
who are sitting out of bowl games because they are putting personal gain above that of their teams
and schools…and that speaks volumes as to what our culture and our Sporting Associations are teaching
our youth and to where we place our values.
We will be whatever we teach our young…be that good or be that bad.
I’ll go back to watching football now, but I’m afraid it will have one more grey cloud
hovering over its legacy.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.