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One major bowl game executive has thought deeply about the prospect of losing his biggest drawing card as the College Football Playoff prepares for expansion in 2024. With the multibillion-dollar industry growing, the executive pondered what has emerged as the biggest question to this point with the format expanding to 12 teams: What if they threw the biggest national championship party ever but the best player(s) didn't show up? 

"You gotta wonder, how many agents and parents are going to get in these kids' heads and say, 'Hey, we've got generational money here. Why are we going to go ahead and play for this thing?'" the executive told CBS Sports under the condition of anonymity. 

Bowl game opt-outs are a modern trend. In 2016, running backs Leonard Fournette (LSU) and Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) caused a stir by skipping their respective postseason games. The practice has since become an expected -- if not accepted -- part of the bowl season.

The choice has always been understandable on some level. 

At their core, bowl games are exhibitions in which players are not directly compensated for their participation. For those transferring or preserving their bodies for the NFL Draft process, sitting out makes perfect sense. The 12-team playoff will change the math, however, by bringing the possibility of four extra games. College football players may now suit up for 17 games, equal to an NFL regular season. 

The choice now shifts from deciding whether to play just one exhibition game to risking generational NFL money to play as many as four additional games in pursuit of a national championship. (So far, through 10 years of the CFP, not a single player has intentionally opted out to preserve his body for the draft.)

"From the moment McCaffrey and others before him said they weren't going to play in bowl games, [I think] everybody should opt out if you're going to be a first- or second-rounder," said Richard Giller, head of insurance recovery at the Los Angeles-based Greenspoon Marder law firm.

CBS Sports has spent the last year speaking with approximately 20 persons closely associated with college football about the prospect of players opting out of the 12-team CFP. The discussions centered around a basic question: Is risking a broken body part (or worse) playing those extra games worth risking the generational NFL Draft money that awaits?

Whether the best players participate could impact the quality of the playoff itself. Sure, Ohio State won the first CFP National Championship in 2014 behind third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, but look what the CFP Selection Committee just did to an undefeated Florida State team largely based on the Seminoles playing without star QB Jordan Travis, who was lost for the season to a devastating leg injury. 

"[The CFP] scenario-plans everything. They're an event business," said Tom McMillen, CEO of Lead1, the advocate organization for FBS athletic directors. "[I've asked the CFP], 'Have you scenario-planned for that?' They said, 'No, they hadn't.' They talked about it, but they never scenario-planned it."

CFP executive director Bill Hancock, who will be exiting his post upon completion of the first 12-team playoff event, told CBS Sports he has no concerns about players opting out of the new format. 

Ultimately, only the top NFL Draft prospects would have a choice to make. But where is that line drawn? This year, compensation slotting ended at approximately $12 million for the final pick of the first round. It's unlikely any NIL deal in college football can match that figure. 

Jason Belzer, CEO of Student Athlete NIL, called "absolute bullshit" on a report stating $20 million to $25 million in NIL money was being raised to keep Ohio State All-American wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. out of the draft. Belzer said participation in postseason games could potentially be written into an NIL agreement. 

"We are very close to revenue sharing," Belzer explained. "There will be [NIL] contracts that prohibit a student-athlete from sitting out or they're not going to get paid. We could do that today. … At the end of the day, I don't think anyone really cares at this standpoint." 

The same basic rule applies to any prospect considering entering the draft: The quickest path to that second NFL contract -- where the real money exists -- the better. 

Opinions vary about what lies ahed. 

"I find it hard to believe [a player would sit out]," Georgia coach Kirby Smart told CBS Sports before the season. "The culture in the SEC, I don't think [suggests] it will happen. That $30 million that is on the line, that could cost them another $15 million if a team [thinks] they're not going to play through the contract."

That would only be an issue if you assume a player opting out to protect his body would do the same in the NFL. 

This was a common theme among those with whom CBS Sports spoke: Opting out of the expanded playoff would be a bad look for a player trying to impress a future NFL employer. 

"I didn't grow up like that," said former Oregon All-American RB LaMichael James, who played parts of four seasons in the NFL. "If I'm going to get hurt, I'm going to go out swinging, and I'm going to live with that. I'm not going to sit out. But if guys do sit out, I have no problem with it. I can't pass judgement."

There's another perspective that also has a place in this discussion.

"There's no way in hell. I don't give two craps [about participating in the CFP]; I'm talking about feeding my family," Giller said. "That's generational money."

Insurance covers loss of draft value in case of injury, either temporary or career-ending. Premiums can even be paid by schools. However, the money paid to those who have filed claims doesn't come close to the payouts they can earn healthy. 

Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a significant knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl that cost him an estimated $20 million in first-round money. Smith was eventually drafted in the second round but placed on injured reserve by the Dallas Cowboys his rookie season. He later collected $700,000 as part of a loss-of-draft value insurance policy -- significantly short of that $20 million. 

Jameson Williams serves as the best, most recent example. The former Alabama wide receiver was projected to be a top-10 pick before blowing out his knee in the CFP National Championship against Georgia two years ago. He slipped to No. 12 in the draft, selected by the Detroit Lions. Using current draft slotting, Williams lost at least $3 million on his rookie contract.

Giller works in a world where players can sign such insurance policies that cover anticipated financial losses due to injury. 

"Nobody complains if a coach leaves a school before a playoff or bowl to take a more lucrative offer somewhere else," Giller said. "But for some reason, the kids get ostracized. Apparently, only adults have freedom of contract."

Even if the CFP hierarchy isn't concerned at the moment, the opt out issue was discussed by the four stakeholders who began constructing the 12-team playoff in 2019. The group included then-Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, then-Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. 

"A player is going to be asked potentially to play four additional football games," Thompson said. "That was always an issue in the conversation. … Your body only has so many [snaps]."

Teams in the expanded playoff will play an average of two or fewer extra games, but that's hardly the point. The issue is more wear and tear in general. 

"With every game you play, you're likely to get hurt worse when you're already hurt," the anonymous bowl executive said. 

Players have increasingly opted out of bowls these past several years. The incentive to play these exhibition games has been reduced with injury risk, NIL money, the NFL Draft and coaching changes all serving as factors. 

LSU played Kansas State with 39 scholarship players in the 2022 Texas Bowl amid the coaching transition to Brian Kelly. Last year, 17 Florida players entered the transfer portal prior to the bowl game against Oregon State. That's not counting quarterback Anthony Richardson and other Gators, who opted out to prepare for the draft. 

Nearly 20 players from Florida State's two-deep depth chart have chosen not to play in the 2023 Orange Bowl vs. Georgia after the Seminoles were snubbed from the CFP field. Among those missing the game will be defensive end Jared Verse, who declared for the draft as a potential top-10 pick. Would Verse have done the same thing if a championship were at stake -- even if it took four games to get there?

"Yeah, it could happen," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said earlier this year regarding players opting out of the playoff. "I give a lot of thought to opt outs when you go back to Fournette and McCaffrey, all the way through LSU having 39 scholarship players. … You know what? Every one of them wanted to play."

At least 378 players had opted out from the 82 teams participating in bowl season since mid-December, according to 247Sports. That number is inexact because the NCAA allows players in the transfer portal to remain with their current schools during bowl prep. Will that number grow when the expanded CFP arrives?

"You've got to prepare yourself for the unfortunate," Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott said. "There will be a moment when somebody is going to say, 'I'm Caleb Williams, and I might not want to [play].' To me, that's OK.

"There are certain people that would not do it because they were raised not to surrender. They were raised not to give up. Bo Nix, he was raised to be who he is today."

Williams, the USC QB projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, opted out of the Trojans' Holiday Bowl game against Louisville. Oregon's Nix, meanwhile, has committed to play in the Fiesta Bowl against Liberty. 

"Some guys are going to do it," said Houston Texans linebacker and former Alabama star Will Anderson Jr.. "Some guys that probably won't, just to take care of themselves. You can't tell anybody what to do with their own bodies."

This isn't about projected third-rounders; they're going to play because they want to chase a championship while boosting their draft stock at the same time. This is about the best of the best -- the likes of Young, Williams and C.J. Stroud. Those who can only hurt their draft position by risking four more games. Missing those types of stars can impact everything from bowl game ticket sales to television ratings.

"The promoter in me goes, 'OK, if that's the fact, how do we continue to make people understand that the crux and heart of college football remains?'" said Fiesta Bowl executive director Erik Morris. "It's what's on the front of the jersey and not on the back. That means something.

"If they're employees, just write it in the contract: 'You have to play every game you're healthy for,'" Morris added.

Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence, whose firm deals in NIL valuation, said he was unaware whether such clauses currently exist in NIL deals. However, he expects that to be the case going forward.

"While their agreements are not tied to performance, it is certainly an expectation of collective donors to see the athletes they are supporting actually play in bowl games," said Lawrence.

The closest to that performance-based language at the moment may be players making in-person appearances at bowl sites in exchange for compensation. But that's a far cry from impacting the outcome of the games themselves. 

Rick Spielman, a CBS Sports analyst and former NFL general manager, echoed Smart's sentiment.

"I don't understand. If you're in the playoffs, why anyone would opt out?" said Spielman. "To me, that would make no sense at all. I would be highly skeptical of that player if they make it to the playoffs and that player decides not to play. There is something wrong with that.

"The first thing that is going to pop into my head is: What if he's in the last year of his contract in NFL, and we're in the playoffs? Is he going to opt out?"

How would that be solved? NFL players are employees. The way things are trending, college players might soon be as well. 

"There's always going to be that one guy who decided, 'I want to go to the next level,'" Lott said. "'And I want to go to the next level and be healthy.'"