Some players skip bowls with bonuses at stake for coaches

Dana Holgorsen can earn a $25,000 bonus if West Virginia beats Syracuse next week in the Camping World Bowl, a game the Mountaineers will play without star quarterback Will Grier and left tackle Yodny Cajuste.

Dave Doeren’s contract with North Carolina State calls for him to receive a $50,000 bonus if the Wolfpack beat Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl. N.C. State’s best players on either side of the ball (receiver Kelvin Harmon and linebacker Germaine Pratt) will not play.

Grier and Cajuste, Harmon and Pratt are part of a growing trend in college football. At least 20 players are planning to skip their teams’ bowl games to focus instead on getting ready for the NFL and avoid injuries. The importance of non-playoff postseason games depends on who you ask and changes from player to player and team to team. But for many coaches, winning a bowl game has a set value.

Six coaches who have players sitting out bowl games this year have nearly $400,000 in total bonuses at stake in those games. Arizona State’s Herm Edwards would have earned the largest bonus in the group, $166,667 for winning the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State last week. The Sun Devils lost 31-20, playing without star receiver N’Keal Harry. The junior is a possible first-round draft pick who led the team with 73 catches for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns.

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Like Doeren, Minnesota coach PJ Fleck and Memphis coach Mike Norvell can each earn $50,000 bonuses for winning their bowl games.

Fleck’s Gophers face Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26 on Detroit without linebacker Blake Cashman, the team’s leading tackler, and offensive tackle Donnell Greene. Norvell’s Tigers play Wake Forest in the Birmingham Bowl on Saturday without All-America running back Darrell Henderson.

Houston coach Major Applewhite would earn a $25,000 bonus if the Cougars can beat Army in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. Houston won’t have star defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who missed four games this season with a knee injury and decided after the regular-season finale that it would be best for him to skip the bowl.

Bob Lattinville, a St. Louis attorney who specializes in sports law with the firm Spencer Fane, provided the contract information to The Associated Press.

The bonuses for winning bowls in most cases are tiny compared with the coaches’ yearly salaries, ranging in this group from Holgorsen’s $3.6 million to Applewhite’s $1.75 million. They also receive bonuses for just making a bowl.

Lattinville said bonuses for bowl wins should generally be avoided by coaches and universities. They can be redundant to other contract bonuses and schools sometimes barely break even financially when they participate in lower-tier bowls.

“Consequently, both parties are usually better off saving their negotiation gun powder for economic provisions that better marry their long-term interests and don’t create the impression of wasting money or calling into question their motivations for encouraging a player to play in a given bowl,” Lattinville said.

Coaches frequently receive bonuses just for reaching a bowl, not on the result.

That’s the case with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines will be without three key players when they face Florida on the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29. Running back Karan Higdon announced Thursday in an Instagram post that he would not play, joining defensive end Rashan Gary and linebacker Devin Bush, who said he had not been cleared by doctors after injuring his hip in the regular-season finale against Ohio State.

Harbaugh’s contract provides a $200,000 bonus for the team playing in a New Year’s Six game — such as the Peach Bowl — that is not a College Football Playoff semifinal, but nothing more for winning it. He would get a $500,000 bonus for winning the College Football Playoff national championship.

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