Mike Leach Says CFB Players Opting Out of Bowl Games 1 of 'Biggest Absurdities'

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 12, 2021

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS - NOVEMBER 06:  Head Coach Mike Leach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs arrives at the stadium before a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on November 06, 2021 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, who reportedly makes $5 million per season, isn't a fan of unpaid college football players skipping college bowl games to begin preparing for the NFL draft.

"You've got an obligation to the place that helped build and develop you and finish it out in the bowl," he told reporters Saturday. "That's part of it. You owe it to your team, you owe it to your fans, you owe it to your coaches and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world to me."

"Somebody says, 'Well, I can't play one more game.' They think they're going to have a storied 10-year NFL career, and then they can't play one more college game," he continued. "Well, that's ridiculous. I mean, guys will go to the NFL, they'll make the Pro Bowl and then they'll play in the Pro Bowl. It's one of the biggest absurdities that I've seen, and it's selfish, too."

The counterargument to Leach's argument is that every bowl game outside of the College Football Playoff is purely ceremonial, and the consequences for star players getting hurt in what are glorified exhibition contests can be pretty severe.

Take the case of linebacker Jaylon Smith. The former Notre Dame star was considered one of the top overall prospects in the 2016 NFL draft and likely would have been a top-10 pick until he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee and suffered nerve damage during the Fiesta Bowl, which was not a CFP game that season.

Smith then dropped into the second round of the draft, losing millions in the process.

He has since said he doesn't regret his decision to play in the Fiesta Bowl, but he doesn't blame players who skip bowl games to avoid injury ahead of the NFL draft.

"Salute to those guys," he said in 2017 on Ed Werder and Matt Mosley's Doomsday Podcast (h/t CBSSports.com's Jared Dubin). "My experience, what I liked about people making their decisions, whether they're playing the game or not, it's your own decision. You have to make that decision for you. So for me, I made the decision to play in that game, and I don't regret it at all. That's the beauty of any decision I've made, it's been my decision. If I had the decision again, I would have played in that game."

As for Mississippi State, it is unclear if the team will have any players opt out of its Liberty Bowl matchup against Leach's former school, Texas Tech, on Dec. 28.

Leach did tell reporters that offensive tackle Charles Cross, a potential top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL draft if he chooses to forgo his senior season, didn't practice Saturday. And Leach said he couldn't remember if cornerback Martin Emerson—who already declared for the 2022 draft, forgoing his senior year—practiced Saturday.

So it's possible that Leach's public comments Saturday were directed at that pair, depending on their status for the team's bowl game.