Recruiting, Bowl Decisions Scuttle One Factor From College Game
Hop into the Wayback Machine and set the dials to December, 2017. In that timeframe, several West Virginia players announced they would be returning for their senior football seasons. From Will Grier to David Sills to Yodny Cajuste to Gary Jennings, all committed to being part of a team that could contend for a Big 12 Championship, and maybe more, in 2018.
“I’m excited to return to WVU and spend another year with a great group of teammates and be coached by the best offensive line coach in the country,” Cajuste said in a released statement from the WVU athletic department at the time. “I spent a lot of time talking with my family and coaches, putting much thought and prayer into this decision. Returning for my senior season gives me a chance to help this program make a championship run, and will further position me toward accomplishing my goals and dreams of playing in the NFL.”
File that away for a moment, because the words are revealing.
Now reset those dials for the late summer and fall of West Virginia’s football preseason. There were a handful of dominant themes there, Grier’s Heisman candidacy and Jennings’ lack of TDs being two, but perhaps the most overplayed of all was the loyalty theme, with a number of rising seniors returning to try to take West Virginia to heights it had never reached in the Big 12. Dotted liberally in there was the theme of loyalty, of commitment to the group, of tribute to all the work they had put in.
Once, though, the possibility of a championship evaporated, so too did that latter storyline, as Cajuste and Grier decided to forego their final bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Before we progress any further, I’m not laying any blame on either for their decisions, nor am I accusing either of letting down his teammates. That’s an issue that belongs between that duo and seniors who are sticking it out. Cajuste and Grier are joined by, at this writing, 11 other players who are making the same choice. That’s their right. They don’t deserve criticism for it.
Instead, the fault is probably more on us on us for buying in to the loyalty theme in the first place. It’s an easy line to follow, the notions of playing for Old State U, and one that ignores the many different realities in the game of 2018. In these doubtful times, we shouldn’t be sucked in. But sometimes it happens.
Back to Cajuste’s statement. Not to parse it too harshly, but there’s a mention of a) making a championship run, and b) discussion of furthering NFL dreams. Nothing about sticking it out to the end with “a great group of teammates”. Again, I’m not criticizing him for anything he said, or for his motivations. It’s just to point out that some of the ideas ascribed to the college game, on the level of a “Band of Brothers” don’t apply, and thinking that they do takes observers down the wrong path.
From this angle, then, loyalty didn’t play a role. That’s also evident in recruiting, where the dance of scholarship offers, commitments and decommitments have been playing out for a lot longer than the phenomenon of players skipping bowl games. There hasn’t been loyalty on either side of that process in years, so should it be a surprise when it disappears from other areas of the game?
Again, there’s no blame being assigned here to either players or coaches. That’s the way the college game works these days — loyalty is an old-fashioned notion that may be practiced by a few individuals, but can’t be applied to decisions or programs as a whole. In about 99% of the cases where loyalty gets brought up, it’s not a consideration at all. It’s all about what’s best for the individual, again, be it player or coach. Accept that, whether you like it or not, and it will be much easier to understand those decisions.