For the third year in a row, college football’s bowl season is dominated by discussion around the debate of players voluntarily skipping bowl games to preserve their health and to prepare for the NFL Draft.
And once again, the Michigan football team finds itself in the midst of the debate.
Two seasons ago, then-Wolverines tight end Jake Butt was staunchly in favor of playing in the 2016 Orange Bowl, even though the game had no title implications. But during the game, Butt tore his ACL, and the All-American fell to the fifth round of the draft after being considered likely to be drafted in the first three rounds.
How related each player’s decision is to Butt’s situation isn’t clear, but it sure makes it easier for the Wolverines who are playing to respect the decision.
“People talk about injuries in regard to that. I think back to the bowl game my sophomore year, Jake Butt getting hurt. He was projected as a late second or third-rounder and then he goes down in the second quarter of that game,” said offensive tackle Jon Runyan Jr.. “Some guys, business decisions for them. Karan, Devin and Rashan, you can’t blame them. They have to do what’s best for them in the end.
“We have guys that are willing to step up and take their place. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Beyond Butt’s injury, the debate has proven controversial nationally as a matter of character. Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew said players “owe it to” teammates, coaches and fans to play to the end of the season, while many have suggested that coaches who take new jobs before the season is over or fans who choose when to support their team are hypocritical. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio expressed disappointment a player skipping the Spartans’ bowl game, adding, “My philosophy is you finish, you finish the season. That includes bowl games or playoff games.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, meanwhile, took on a different tone when asked about his trio of starters — including two captains — skipping Michigan’s matchup against No. 10 Florida.
“That was their decision, we respect it,” Harbaugh said. “I have respect for them — that’s their decision to make.”
Ultimately, there’s currently nothing teams can do to stop a departing player from skipping the bowl game or even regular-season games should they choose to do so. NFL teams may question a player who voluntarily skips multiple games, but have yet to indicate they view players who skip bowl games with any less esteem.
And so without repercussion and with plenty of injury risk, it’s easy to see and understand why some players skip bowl games in favor of their dreams of making the NFL. It’s easy for the Wolverines who are playing to see that, too.
“We understand the opportunities those guys have outside of Michigan football,” said junior cornerback David Long, who shut down speculation that he wouldn’t play Monday. “I respect those guys to the fullest. They laid their bodies and everything on the line the past (several) years and like I told Devin Bush, while it seems like this was short-lived, I appreciate everything he did for this team and this defense. It’s only right he does something for himself for once.”
Added Runyan: “It’s up to them. We’d love to have had them one more game to finish out the season, but if that’s not what they want to do then we can’t really blame them.”