For the last several weeks—or to be quite honest since Jadeveon Clowney laid that massive hit on an unsuspecting Michigan ball-carrier in the Outback Bowl—all I’ve heard is how despicable it is that a player of his caliber has to stick around and play college football for one more season.
While I can certainly agree that Clowney’s talent is other worldly, what makes him any more special than any other player whose had to do the same? I mean, Clowney is hardly the first game-changing athlete to be processed through the college ranks as a bonafide superstar and I doubt he’ll be the last, so why all the hoopla about the NFL’s eligibility system or, even more perplexing, the debate as to whether Clowney should be allowed to sit out the 2013 season as a means of avoiding injury?
Every collegiate athlete who signs with a Division-I, II, or III football program understands from the get-go that it’s a three-year proposition. They also know that within that span of time, anything can happen (injury being the ultimate disaster). So, it’s not like any of them go into their college careers believing that if they play well enough in years one and two, they will be granted a golden ticket to the NFL earlier than any other prospect; they know the deal going in and, fair or not, they have accepted the conditions for what they are and make the decision to use the process as a means of getting an education and crafting their skills for a shot at the big money down the line.
However, to hear Tim Keown of ESPN tell it, the NCAA is holding young men against their will and making them slaves to the game without the benefit of anything more than a pat on the back and maybe a few post-season accolades.
Every dive an offensive lineman takes at one of Clowney’s knees next season puts him that much closer to being finished as a player. Every cheap shot Bridgewater takes from some hopped-up linebacker threatens to reduce his earning power. Why should a guy who redshirts his first year at Utah State, sits on the bench for two years and starts as a redshirt junior be eligible for the draft while a guy who plays every snap in the SEC for two years — and dominates — is forced wait until the end of that third year to get paid? Isn’t the physical toll exacted in those first two years enough dues-paying for them to earn their way into the real money?
The best players, the ones who generate the most revenue, attract the most eyes and win the most games, are held hostage by an arbitrary, self-serving system. They’re commodities, sprinkled with the patronizing glitter of what everyone else thinks is best for them. Hypocrisy is rarely this transparent.
Listen, I’m not a fan of the NCAA or it’s arbitrary rule enforcement, but the moment you start signaling out players as “special”—particularly above those who are clawing and fighting every bit as hard as they are week in and week out—you run the risk of rampant entitlement, broken team chemistry, and even player bounties (what kid wouldn’t want to go after a guy once they know he’s been deemed a ‘golden egg’ by those in the NFL?). Even more, where would the madness stop? If you allow sophomores to jump, do you suddenly allow quality freshman to go as well—oooh, oooh, I know, how about high school seniors? Could Robert Nkemdiche have left all the recruiting nonsense behind and simply declared for the draft?
Slippery-slope, here we come!
Is Jadeveon Clowney a great college player? Absolutely, but so were Reggie Bush, Ryan Leaf, Brian Bosworth, Robert Gallery, and Vince Young. All were “held hostage” by the NCAA and none managed to take their college stardom and turn it into NFL greatness. There simply are no guarantees of success, no matter how great you play on Saturdays.
Clowney will have his opportunity to play in the NFL, he’ll just have to wait…just like everyone else.