The NFL requires college football players to wait three years after graduating high school before entering the draft not for their own good, but for the good of college football. With South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney possibly the first overall pick in the 2013 draft if he were available to be drafted but still one year removed from being eligible, Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer has raised an intriguing question.
Should Clowney sit out the 2013 college football season, for his own good?
Clowney should look no farther than former teammate Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a serious knee injury during his third season after leaving high school. Lattimore’s draft stock has taken a major hit because of it, and it’s unclear whether he’ll ever reach his full potential at the next level.
Most college football players major in playing football, even though a small percentage of all college football players ever play professionally. If a player is ready not only for the NFL but also to be the taken at the top of the draft, why risk serious injury by playing for free?
Let’s not get bogged down by the “free education” excuse. What Clowney gains in 2013 by playing for South Carolina is outweighed dramatically by the risk. Sure, he’ll purchase an insurance policy to replace the money he’d lose if he suffers a career-ending injury. But if he’s injured, he’s injured. And if it impacts his ability to thrive in the NFL, no insurance policy will change that.
As Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino routinely tells players in whom the NBA is interested, “You can stay and help my family, or you can go and help your family.” In Clowney’s case, he could be helping himself and his family more by sitting out a season.
Of course, an unconventional decision to not play football this year could impact the manner in which NFL teams regard Clowney. Apart from the fact that he’d be out of sight for 2013, some coaches and scouts may have concerns about a guy whose love of football has been overcome by his own financial interests.
Still, those financial interests reside at the core of the football business. With the NFL erecting artificial barriers aimed at ensuring the supply of players for its free farm system won’t be disrupted, one of the best college football players in the nation needs to realize that his decision to participate in college football this year constitutes a business decision, too.
As crazy as it may sound on the surface, Clowney’s best play could indeed be to not play at all.