Another bowl season has come and gone and it did so with little fanfare, not counting the playoff games. That shouldn’t be surprising.

The bowl season is so fat and meaningless that even the best players have lost interest. More than 150 players chose to enter the transfer portal rather than play in a bowl game and another 45 or so opted out simply to protect themselves from injury in their preparation for the NFL draft.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about players opting out of bowl games. Many notable players have taken that route — Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Kenneth Walker, Kenny Pickett, among them. This season there were about 15 bowl games that saw players choose not to play, everything from the Cheez-It Bowl (four opt-outs) to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (four more) to — what? — the Rose Bowl (four more).

When players opt out of the Rose Bowl, you know college football has a problem.

If nothing else, it’s bad optics. What does it say about relevance of the bowl season when so many players choose not to play. If the best players have little interest in the bowls, why should fans? The bowl season has become to college football what the exhibition season is to the NFL.

The opt-outs are the side effect of having a national playoff and a glut of bowl games, which has grown over the years; players don’t opt out of the playoffs, but all other bowl games have been rendered meaningless with the creation of a playoff, and therefore considered optional by elite players.

Related
The transfer portal: Too much of a good thing?
The line between the NFL and the college game growing thinner

“Their (players’) whole mentality right now is about the championship, the playoff,” former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard said a year ago. “We’ve got to get into the CFP and because of that they don’t value the bowl games. When we were coming up, (Kirk) Herbstreit and myself, to go to a bowl game was a huge reward for a fantastic season. That’s what it meant.”

Starting with the 2024-25 season, the playoff will be expanded from four teams to 12, which, to some extent, will remedy the problem of players opting out, but that’s only six games. There are 42 bowls.

Asked about the problem of opt-outs, former BYU wide receiver great Andy Boyce offered one possible solution: “Put it in a contract that requires players to play in all of their school’s games” unless they are injured.

College players are professional athletes now with the advent of name, image and likeness. They are free to market their skills to the highest bidder via the transfer portal. The best players — those who are draft-eligible and opting out of bowl games — are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases from boosters and local businesses via NIL.

According to On3.com, which tracks NIL deals, three Utah players are paid well to play football — tight end Dalton Kincaid earns $433,000, cornerback Clark Phillips $302,000 and quarterback Cam Rising $535,000. Phillips and Kincaid opted not to play in the Rose Bowl (Kincaid said an injury factored into the decision).

Related
How BYU football will compete with out-of-control NIL chaos
NCAA opened the NIL box, but how will schools operate in this brave new world?

Anyway, now that players are professionals, treat them as such and put them on a one-year contract each season that requires them to play every game unless injured.

Don’t they owe it to their benefactors, their schools and their teammates? 

Without the school, there is no coaching, no facilities, no training room, no stadium, no televised games to showcase their skills, no forums to earn NIL money, no formal education and probably no NFL career.

Give the players a contract to sign that commits them to play in all games, whether it’s the First Responder Bowl (no opt-outs) or the New Mexico Bowl (one opt-out). Meanwhile, there ought to be some consideration to thinning the herd of bowl games (there are now 42 of them — up from 25 in 2000).

Someone might point to Rising’s injury as an example of why players opt out of bowl games, but he’s been injured much of the season, which brings us to the next point. It never made any sense that players opt out of the final game of the season, which is the 13th or 14th of the season; why not opt out of the 12th game or the 11th game? They could have suffered an injury in those games. The injury risk is no greater in a bowl game; it’s simply the last game.

Add the opt-out to a long list of things college football needs to fix.

The Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin and Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham shake hands after Penn State won the 109th Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News