Sean Gentille: Bowl games are stupid, as Pitt's Pinstripe injury disaster reminds us
December 28, 2016 5:53 PM
James Conner's Pitt career ended on the sideline.
By Sean Gentille / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ah, yes, the ongoingdebate over whether college football stars, in choosing to sit out pointless bowl games, are guilty of some sort of moral failure. It’d be funny if weren’t so stupid.
The Pinstripe Bowl provided Examples A, B and C in short order. James Conner left the game with a head injury. Dorian Johnson left the game with an ankle injury. Nate Peterman left the game with a head injury.
All three, to some degree, are stars; Conner leads the way in that regard. His resume doesn’t need to be rehashed — he’s a great player before you consider everything he’s done off the field. Peterman is a three-year starter at quarterback and has at least given himself a shot at getting drafted. Johnson could be one of the first guards off the board in April.
They’re Pitt’s three most important offensive players, and they all wound up in street clothes before the game was over. Two of the three absorbed head shots, and none of them was flagged.
So it goes; whether the hits were legal or not is beside the point. All of them were, indisputably, the sort of stuff that can happen on any play. The effect it all had on the outcome, likewise, is beside the point (though it’s tough to imagine Pitt blowing all those shots down the stretch in its 31-24 loss without its starting quarterback, running back and left guard.)
The point is that football is a dangerous, brutal game, where damage to the body and brain are inevitable. The least any of us owes guys like Conner, Johnson, Peterman, Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette is some degree of autonomy over their futures. Why is it so hard to let them do what they want? Why is that such an unrealistic expectation?
Pitt’s James Conner is stopped short of a first down against Northwestern. Click image to full photo gallery from the game. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)
If they want to play in late-December slogfests like the Pinstripe Bowl, where the schools split a $2 million payout and the players get a bag of hats, so be it. If they want to sit them out, though — especially guys with an NFL future — nobody should say a word about it. Because Wednesday’s outcome is a very real, very stupid possibility.
Pitt’s guys opted in; if that’s what they wanted, more power to them. But make no mistake — had they not, they’d have been roasted by relevant parts of the media, the public and folks who generally don’t have their best interests at heart.
Even people who do — like coach Pat Narduzzi — are priming the pump for them to get burned at the stake for opting out. “That’s not how our guys operate. Our guys are team players,” Narduzzi said recently.
If his players didn’t feel like dealing with the blowback that’d come from choosing otherwise, it’d be hard to blame them. They’ve already spent two, three or four years making a whole bunch of money for a whole bunch of people other than themselves. Might as well suck it up one more time and avoid getting dumped on.
Now, though, their futures are up in the air. Peterman and Johnson were supposed to play in the Senior Bowl, in front of a fleet of NFL scouts. At minimum, whether they make it has to be an open question.
Hopefully, it works out for them. Hopefully, they’re comfortable with their decisions. And hopefully, their Wednesday reminded everyone just how dumb this debate has gotten, especially 21-year-olds faced with a similar choice a year from now.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.