HUSKER DAN: TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY?
It’s December, 2020. Nebraska is just coming off a loss in the B1G championship game with an 11-2 record and a number 10 national ranking. As a reward for the season, NU is headed to the Peach Bowl to play Auburn on New Year’s Day (2021) in Atlanta.
Meanwhile Husker junior quarterback, Adrian Martinez, was the runner up for the Heisman this year after he came back from a knee injury last year.
That injury caused him to miss the last three games of his sophomore year. But Martinez had a great year and was named first team B1G All Conference QB and a first team All American. And because of his performance this season, Martinez is listed as a probable first round draft pick in the April 2021 NFL draft.
As a result, Martinez has a big decision to make. Should he play in Nebraska’s bowl game or sit it out, avoid injury and prepare for the NFL draft?
What would you advise him to do? That’s what I’ve been mulling over in my mind for several weeks.
For answers, I consulted the wisdom and expertise of several people who have been close to the Husker football program.
Former Husker DE. Adam was a First Team All Big 12 pick in both the Coaches and AP polls; a first round draft choice of the St. Louis Rams (2007) and 13th overall pick. Was the Rams Rookie of the Year in 2007. Was traded to the Washington Redskins in 2010 and retired after the 2014 season. And in 2016, he was inducted into the Husker Hall of Fame.
Bowl games have long been a reward for a good season and gives coaches 15 more practices with the players. But the NCAA has way too many bowl games-only two of them count anymore. Look at Michigan: They had four players opt out of their team’s bowl game with Florida including their leading rusher, Karan Higdon, their starting LB, Rashan Gary and Devin Bush (B1G’s Defensive Player of the Year). (Both Gary and Bush are projected first rounders.)
And West Virginia’s QB, Will Grier who finished 4th in last year’s Heisman race didn’t play in their Camping World Bowl game with Syracuse. And both West Virginia and Michigan lost their bowl games.
I thought about leaving for the NFL after my junior year but decided not to. I loved playing for Nebraska. But I did get a disability insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London and stayed at Nebraska. And as it turned out, I didn’t get drafted any higher than if I would have left early.
The way I look at it, an athletic scholarship is a contract. Players are expected to play in all of their team’s games. I’d like to see some recourse for the players who don’t play in the bowl games. Players are paid each month including December. And if a player chooses not to play, he should have to forfeit his allowance for that month. I know it’s not much, but at least there would be some consequence for leaving early.
If you don’t play in your school’s bowl game, I see that as quitting on your team. But NFL owners are getting used to the idea of kids not playing. They are telling players that it’s okay if you don’t honor your commitment.
Owners and agents actually like it that the star players have one less game to get injured in.
Former Husker TE (’85-’87)
Currently runs a Farm Bureau Insurance Agency in Lincoln.(https://tombanderas.fbfsagents.com/)
From Oak Grove, Missouri
Father of former Husker LB, Josh and current Husker LB, Anthony.
The current college football playoff system has diminished the meaning of bowl games. The only games that matter are the CFP games, which is limited to four teams and only two bowl games.
So if you are a projected first or second round pick and your team is playing in a meaningless bowl game, what do you gain from playing? You could get hurt and jeopardize your NFL career and what for?
Having said that, do you think that if Michigan had been in the CFP that their kids wouldn’t have played? No way! Same goes for Will Grier at West Virginia.
And there are ways to beat the system A player can just say he has a pulled hamstring etc. and get out of playing in the bowl game.
So far, no Husker has ever not played in one of Nebraska’s bowl games, but it could happen in the future.
I can see the issue both ways.
Mike has been covering Husker sports for over 40 years; is the author of several books on Nebraska football including Heart of a Husker, University of Nebraska Vault, Tom Osborne On Leadership: Life, Devaney, and Stadium Stories: Nebraska.
Mike has also written for the Lincoln Journal Star, Huskers Illustrated and is currently the editor of Hail Varsity Magazine.
I have mixed emotions. I’m an old school guy and if you’re a good teammate, you stay with your team. You have to wonder what NFL owners think of a player who quits on his team. Will that lack of character affect a player’s chances in the NFL? I don’t know. Again, I’m old school. I think kids should stay with their teams. But I can see why players choose not to play in the bowl games.
From Elkhorn, NE. Was part of the ’02 Husker recruiting class. Played in 37 Husker games as a DE, starting 30 of them. In 2007, was drafted in the fourth round by the ’49’ers, Also played for the Rams, Titans and Cowboys. He finished his career with the Omaha Nighthawks UFL professional football team. Jay is currently the co-host of NET’s Big Red Wrap Up TV show that airs weekly during the football season.
Times change regarding not playing in bowl games. I understand it but it won’t happen for those teams in the College Football Playoffs.
Would I have decided not to play in one of Nebraska’s bowl games to prepare for the NFL? No, but you can’t fault those who do pass on the game.
I remember Notre Dame’s great linebacker, Jaylon Smith. As a junior in 2015, he won the Butkus Award. He played in Notre Dame’s bowl game that year against Ohio State. And in that game, he tore not only his ACL but his LCL as well. And after successful surgery, he opted out of his senior year at Notre Dame and entered the 2016 NFL draft where he was a second round pick of the Dallas Cowboys.
It can really be a gamble if you play in the bowl game. A player is sitting potentially on millions of dollars in contracts, signing bonuses and endorsements if he gets selected high in the draft. Some wisely take out disability insurance policies.
And sometimes agents give players bad advice. It can be confusing to players who are trying to make the right decision.
And as far as letting down your teammates, coaches do it all the time. They leave and don’t give much consideration to anyone but their own careers.
I remember my position coach, John Blake, left to take the head coaching job at North Carolina. I get that, so there’s that to consider, too. In the end, college players have to make a business decision.
You may contact the writer at HuskerDan@cox.net.