The Belk Bowl was born in 2002, but it was the Continental Tire Bowl then and became the Meineke Car Bowl after that before the department store purchased the naming rights in 2011. The game was created by Raycom Sports, a television production company.
It is, and always has been, a monument to capitalism. It is, and always has been, what the majority of all college football bowl games are – television programming created as a platform for advertisements and sponsorships that put a lot of money in a lot of people’s pockets.
Deebo Samuel announced Monday that he won’t participate in the Belk Bowl when South Carolina (7-5) takes on Virginia (7-5) on Dec. 29. The reason for that, presumably, is that he wants to maximize his ability to put money in his own pocket by preparing exclusively for the NFL Combine and NFL Draft and minimizing his risk of injury while doing that.
So anybody who has a problem with Samuel’s decision is going to have to explain why it’s OK for everybody else involved in college football’s postseason to be proud capitalists while Samuel must remain an unpaid intern for another month.
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said before Samuel’s announcement that he would “support the student-athlete” when it came to the decision to skip a postseason game, and he should. Most college football coaches, Muschamp included, sell recruits on the NFL dream at the beginning of their college career.
On page 19 of South Carolina’s media guide there’s a long list of players coached by Muschamp who went on to the NFL. The team’s crack social media team occasionally will promote the amount of money made in the NFL by this former Gamecock or that former Gamecock. Everybody who recruits in the circles South Carolina recruits does it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What would be wrong is to flip the narrative on the back end of the collegiate career and insist that players must risk that NFL future to play in a game that has little historical significance. The Gamecocks aren’t playing for a national title. They are not playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game. They are actors in a late December television show that will provide their football team with a few more practices and the chance to get from seven wins to eight.
Samuel knows better than most how injury can affect on-field production. His first two seasons at South Carolina were hampered by serious hamstring issues. Last year, he was on a Heisman pace before breaking a bone in his leg. When senior offensive lineman Zack Bailey suffered a similar injury last week in the third quarter of a blowout win of a makeup game, it was a stark reminder for Samuel and the rest of the players that they exist one play away from catastrophe all the time.
Samuel’s decision to leave early lessens South Carolina’s chances of winning the game. At its base level, it is a selfish decision. Good for him. He’s earned that right.