Barkley’s decision a risky one

So, Saquon Barkley has decided he will play in Penn State’s bowl game. He’s an outstanding young man, and the program means a great deal to him, so it probably was a no-brainer in his mind.

Until a year ago, many of us wouldn’t have even thought about a top player deciding to skip his team’s bowl game. Then LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who were turning pro early, did just that, and the runnings backs were criticized by many for their decisions.

It was going to hurt their draft stock, some proclaimed, because it showed a lack of commitment. They were letting their teammates down, and so on.

Fournette was drafted fourth overall by the Jaguars. He signed a four-year contract for $27.15 million, with a signing bonus of $17.9 million.

McCaffrey was drafted eighth overall by the Panthers. His four-year contract was for $17.2 million, with a signing bonus of $10.7 million.

Barkley is projected to be a top five pick. If so, he would get about the same money as Fournette, which should set his family up for generations.

Even if he skips PSU’s bowl game, Barkley would still go in the top five.

If he gets hurt in the bowl game, well, that would be just awful.

Barkley undoubtedly has an insurance policy in case of a major injury, probably worth $1-2 million. That’s a far cry from $17 million guaranteed.

Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was considered a top five pick in 2016. He suffered a gruesome knee injury during the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The Cowboys, believing Smith would recover, took him in the second round (34th overall pick), and Smith eventually signed a four-year deal worth $6.5 million, with $2.9 million guaranteed.

The injury might have cost Smith upwards of $14 million in guaranteed money on his rookie contract. He’s healthy now and has a chance to make up some of that on his next deal.

To some of you, I’m wasting my time pointing out all this money stuff. You’re a sports fan, you may love Penn State, you have a certain belief about college athletes, and there’s nothing anyone could ever say to make you think that a college player should skip his bowl game.

“He signed up to play for Penn State!” you exclaim. “Football is a violent sport. Injuries happen. He knows the risks. He should play. He owes it to his teammates, his school. He owes it to me as a fan.”

Saquon Barkley doesn’t owe anybody anything at this point. He owes it to himself to get paid. Millions and millions and millions of dollars.

But hey, it’s not YOUR money on the line. We as a society love spending other people’s money, telling them what they should do with it or rip team owners to shreds for not spending more of theirs on payroll.

Whatever bowl game Penn State winds up in will make a ton of money. Penn State itself will make a ton of money. The Big Ten will make a ton of money.

If Barkley gets hurt, it’s his bank account, his future that could be drastically affected.

A big part of me is glad he’s playing. I’ll admit, I’m a sports traditionalist, and I was initially frustrated upon hearing about Fournette and McCaffrey last year.

But I absolutely, 100 percent would understand if any college player under any circumstances decided he just didn’t want to risk it any longer and hurt his chances of getting paid. Especially a running back, and especially one who plays behind a bad offensive line, as Barkley does.

There is just too much money at stake. Way, way, way too much. And the brutal sport of football doesn’t give a damn about being fair to any individual.

So, Barkley is going to play in the bowl game. I don’t really think he should, but I totally respect his decision one way or another.

Just as I hope everyone would have respected his decision had he decided not to play.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.