When Matt Corral went down with a leg injury early in the Sugar Bowl and returned on crutches with tears in his eyes, many around college football had disparate takes on the events that brought him to this moment.
Despite being considered as a potential first-rounder in the 2022 draft class, Corral decided to play out the Sugar Bowl with his teammates. What was lauded by many as a selfless decision to help his team gave way to others claiming that Corral should never have been in the game, because it was likely not worth the risk of him getting injured.
Ultimately, the decision to opt out or not should be that of the player. That decision may influence how the player is perceived by their peers and coaches, or by NFL executives, but it also may not make much difference. To truly nail down what the perspectives are on this topic from the people who matter most, we asked our network of those in the football industry for their takes.
Jake Butt, Former NFL Player Who Was Injured In a Bowl Game:
I say let the players make the best decision for themselves the same way we let these $100 million coaches make the best decision for themselves. People talk about loyalty, but you see coaches leaving in bowl season and no one bats an eye. At a certain point in that bowl season, it’s a risk reward analysis.
People say, “Well, why even play out the whole season?” Because you can greatly improve your draft stock in September, October, November. But by then you have a body of work. And what’s there to be gained by playing in a bowl game? Not much. But there’s a lot to be lose by getting severely injured in a bowl game, and the schools aren’t going to come to save you.
If you get hurt in the NFL, you have disability, you have worker’s comp, the NFL is liable for any future complications. Not in college. In terms of loyalty, there’s no loyalty and everyone’s for sale. All these people that are saying, “You’re quitting on your team. You’ve got to do it for your team.” I respect somebody that does it for the team. I respect somebody that’s loyal. But listen, everybody’s for sale. For anyone out there saying that, if another company told them, “Hey, we’re going to double your salary. Just quit your job tomorrow,” every single person with their right mind would quit their job the very next day for that opportunity.
A Current FBS Director Of Player Personnel:
I don’t think players opting out of bowl games affects the team. It’s really a case by case basis. I’ve been in the building when our star player opted out of a bowl game and the guys on the team understood completely. Everyone at practice every day saw how hard that this player worked, and they saw that he was the type of player who got hurt in practice a lot and had a lot of soft tissue injuries.
We were in a bowl game that wasn’t really consequential for us. He had nothing to gain from it and a lot to lose if he got hurt, so the players stood with him on that decision. Nobody questioned his commitment. It’s about the player’s relationship with his teammates and who he has been the last three or four years on campus. This guy had been a stud for us and had played hurt in the past.
From a team perspective, it’s not ideal to be without your best guys but it does not exactly bother us. It was just another form of “next man up.”
What staying in the bowl game can do for players is engrain them more into the school’s history and cement their legacy. Scouts that I’ve talked to in the NFL seem to like when guys play out the bowl game, but they don’t think it makes or changes an evaluation.
By and large, these guys that are really good players have done so much for their programs, when it gets to the point where their future is on the line, you don’t question it.
A Former NFL Head Coach:
I am not in favor of players opting out of bowl games. You make a commitment, see it through. I understand why they do it, but when a player opts out it tells you something about the guy.
Mike Tannenbaum, Former NFL General Manager:
While I understand players opting out for obvious and apparent reasons, it’s impossible not to notice and give significant credit to the players who have nothing to play for and play anyway.
While it’s not the reason you would draft or not draft someone; a player who plays when they have nothing to play for will most certainly get the benefit of the doubt when they go through the draft process.
A Former NFL Scout:
As a fan, I think sometimes it can make the non-playoff bowl games less interesting. From a scout’s perspective it probably depends on each case.
You may still have some questions about a player that you hope to get an answer to by seeing them play in an additional game, hopefully against better competition, but by the time we reach the NCAA post-season most of the work has been done.
For many teams your reports will have already been submitted. For the individual players, I think bowl games, like all-star games, are showcase events. If you’ve had an excellent season or career and you’re happy with where your perceived draft value is, I can understand not wanting to take unnecessary risk and taking that time to heal up and get a jump on combine and pro day prep instead.
Just like every significant decision in life you have to do your due diligence, make sure you’re listening to knowledgeable people that you trust, and be confident that you’ve made the best decision for yourself, whatever you choose. If you have a sound process backed by good information and logical reasoning, I think decision makers should understand, even if they disagree with your choice.
Joe Banner, Former NFL President and CEO:
I struggle to understand those who are criticizing these players. Schools, networks, announcers, no one would be covering or broadcasting these games unless there was money to be made. To ask players to play for free and risk their NFL careers asks them to do something no one else would do. A bunch of these games are now between teams that are around .500. That’s truly playing for nothing other than to make money for schools, networks, announcers, and you are supposed to risk your future chance to make a lot of money for those groups.