Skipping the bowl a sign of our big-dollars times, college and pro

The decisions by Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette to skip their bowl games to ``prepare'' for the NFL draft are a reminder that big-time college sports sports operate in a very complex universe.

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On the one hand, it’s sad that, having reached the promised land—what players and coaches supposedly play for, and what fans and alumni ponder feverishly—the bowl trip!—these talented runners are just saying no.

On the other hand, for all the school colors and marching bands, college sports is a big business. And if these young men choose to acknowledge that by placing their personal futures ahead of one last college try, I have no problem with that.

If they were in more compelling bowls—the playoffs or traditional New Year’s Day games, it would be more disappointing.

And no question, LSU vs. Louisville in the Citrus Bowl and Stanford vs. North Carolina in the Sun Bowl will be less interesting without Fournette and McCaffrey.

But we all agree that there are too many bowls. Maybe we’ll see the next great LSU or Stanford running back. Maybe we’ll see a passing game rise up instead.

Or maybe we’ll just change the channel and catch the next bowl game.

College coaches jump to better jobs and more money all the time. Colleges will move their kickoffs to 3 a.m. on Wednesday in Bora Bora if the rights fee and exposure are outrageous enough.

We’re going to rip on the kids for not following those examples?

Not here.

This reminds me of a debate I often have with sportswriter friends who deplore the financial hypocrisy of college sports.

When I protest that the outrageous sums and relentless pursuit of every dollar in pro sports makes my stomach squeamish, they respond that at least pro teams are upfront about their dollar-worshipping.

I suppose.

But it’s so extreme.

Even when I am invited to a Cubs or Blackhawks or Bulls game—I seldom pony up the hundreds tickets can cost these days—the whole business of paying buying rounds of $10 beers and $5 waters feels like a gun in the ribs. My moral compass objects to working people paying a premium to support the $18 million salaries of superstars, or the Fort Knox-sized bank accounts of owners.

I remember being a Blackhawks’ season ticket holder in the early ‘80s, before I moved from features to sports. The tickets were $10. First balcony, on the blue line, at the old Chicago Stadium. A comparable ticket now would cost $150.

Even the beers were affordable. I used to describe it as a bar with a floor show—12 guys skating around with sticks.

And since our newspaper was being sold to Rupert Murdoch, we needed a good tavern.

I know it was a long time ago. But newspaper salaries haven’t gone up 15 times since then. If your salary has gone up 15 times, congrats. And try to stay one step ahead of the law.

Bad example, I suppose. But it takes deep pockets to go to pro sports events in a major market these days.

What I’m saying is, the money side of our sports—whether pro or college sports—is large and insatiable.

Did you know, for example, that a single-game parking pass at Notre Dame can cost more than $100? At Illinois, you can buy a season ticket for less than that.

``You get what you pay for,’’ an Irish scribe sniffed when I mentioned this. . . although I’m not sure that was the case this fall.

Given a choice between the outrageous hypocrisy of ``amateur’’ college athletics and the boggling financial excesses of professional sports, I’m partial to the college game.

I like college games because they’re more unpredictable, more dramatic and more fun. My pro-style friends like their games because they feature the highest level of skill, and the most sophisticated strategy.

I used to be on that side. I get it. I remember a time when the Cubs and the Bears were the most important teams in the world.

The point is, there’s room for both.

And if young men like McCaffrey and Fournette want to forego one of the best parts of college to enhance their chances at the pro level, I’m OK with it.

It’s kind of a sad comment on the money-driven state of our sports, college and pro. But that cuts both ways. Deal with it.