College football players are starting to make business decisions. Which is good news, because everyone else connected to college football makes business decisions (especially since they all get paid for doing business with college football).
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 1,496 yards in 2016, recently addressed the issue with Pete Thamel of SI.com. During a four-minute answer, Barkley (per Thamel) changed his mind on the fly, before finally saying this: “I would have a hard time doing it. But I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”
Of course, now that what was once speculation has become a full-blown thing, with guys like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipping bowl games and still going in the top 10 (and with guys like Jaylon Smith and Jake Butt playing and blowing out their knees), college football coaches who successfully recruited these players into their programs will be trying their best to recruit them to finish the job. Including Barkley’s coach.
“I don’t mean this as a knock to any of these guys, but especially at the running back position, you didn’t get there by yourself,” Penn State coach James Franklin told Thamel. “Those offensive linemen had a big part of your success. Those tight ends and quarterbacks had a big part of your success.”
That’s all true, but once a guy emerges as a player who will be earning a lot of money in the NFL (far more than the zero dollars and zero cents he earns in college), he needs to think about himself. College football coaches, who hopscotch from program to program (like Franklin did from Vanderbilt to Penn State) always think about themselves, ignoring that the offensive linemen, tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs, defensive players, specialists, and all other coaches on the staff “had a big part of your success.”
Of course, that won’t matter when the recruiting tools get directed back to players who are realizing that they have the power to walk away from the program whenever they choose. As to Barkley, who seems to be willing to make a business decision (however it turns out), there’s another business decision he should consider making right now, based on the experiences of guys like star running back Marcus Lattimore, who shredded his knee during a final season at South Carolina: With the NFL not allowing Barkley into the draft until next year, should Barkley skip not just the bowl game but the whole season?
However Barkley resolves that business decision is Barkley’s business. But every player with clear NFL potential that becomes obvious before the NFL will welcome him to the next level needs to make that decision. Millions of dollars are riding on the outcome of the risk-reward balance that every great college football player will face, and after giving the program a year or two of mostly free service, the player owes it to himself and his family to make the affirmative and conscious decision to stay or to go, even if he can’t go to the NFL for a full year.