For the last decade, there has been a lot to like about Stanford football.
Actually, I need to rephrase that. There was a lot more to like about Stanford football. The Cardinal was always a guilty pleasure before the university hired Jim Harbaugh because of the sideshow. Sportswriters across the land aren’t supposed to choose favorite teams, but we damn sure loved the hell out of the Stanford Tree, the band and the Dollies.
So Stanford excelling in football? Yeah, I approve.
But Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey skipping what would have been his final game at Stanford — vs. North Carolina on Dec. 30 in the Sun Bowl — is something I reluctantly agree with.
McCaffrey is not the first to skip out on a bowl this year. His decision came three days after LSU’s Leonard Fournette pulled out for the Tigers bowl game on New Year’s Eve. They say they want to improve their draft status with extra focus on workouts for the NFL combine. Typically, both players have been derided as greedy athletes.
The arguments have been going back and forth for decades on paying college athletes. Ultimately, the counterpoint is about athletes being paid “in kind” with a six-figure education, room and board. This argument only goes so far, because LSU and Stanford are seen regularly on national TV, which means the schools make a tidy profit, along with earnings from bowl games and ironically enough — souvenir sales featuring the athlete’s jerseys, photos, etc.
Football is the golden goose that pays for much of a university’s athletic department. I like soccer a lot, but make no mistake, it is quite possible that McCaffrey’s legs alone paid for the Stanford women’s soccer team to exist. He’s a senior. He’s paid his debt to the school beyond what Stanford invested.
In business, supervisors tend not to get upset when an employee turns in two weeks’ notice. That employee found a better opportunity. The current employer can’t match it. It’s fair.
To argue that McCaffrey or Fournette should play in their bowl games is to say they should continue to provide free labor at risk of injury when a better employer beckons.
I can’t agree with that. That’s not greed.
That’s investing in yourself, which is the point of higher education in the first place.