Look away, LSU fans. You’re not going to like what you see below. Because no college football fans want to see any of the guys playing for room, board, and snacks consider the possibility of paying for their own room, board, and snacks.
But with the NFL barring players from entering the draft for three years after high school graduation in order to force players to play for room, board, and snacks (which in turn keeps the proprietors of the NFL’s free farm system happy), a player who has maximized his draft value in two years or fewer should choose not to play until he can be paid to do so.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette already has shown that he’s ready. Don’t take it from me (as if you ever do). Take it from legendary scout and current NFL employee Gil Brandt.
“He’s ready to play,” Brandt recently told the New York Times.
Fournette is ready to play in the NFL, but he can’t play in the NFL until 2017. Unless the rule changes before April (it won’t), Fournette can’t get in to the NFL before 2017. So if he’s ready to play in the NFL and if he has maxed out his draft value, why should he continue to assume the risk of injury while playing for compensation that doesn’t come close to matching Fournette’s value?
Eventually, someone is going to do it. After rushing for nearly 700 yards in three high-stakes games, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott should have passed on playing in 2015. This year, Fournette definitely should skip 2016.
If not Fournette, at some point it will happen. And plenty of fans and media will lose their minds, calling the player selfish and stupid and not a person who truly loves football.
But why love football when football doesn’t properly love you back? By playing for LSU in 2016, Fournette risks becoming the next Marcus Lattimore. Even if Fournette comes through the experience healthy, he will have done nothing to enhance his value beyond what it already is.
Kids go to college to acquire marketable skills. Plenty of college football players are majoring in football, even though the placement rate is ridiculously low. For guys like Fournette, who has won the lottery after only two years, there’s no reason to play football for something close to free.
When NFL owners, coaches, and executives treat business situations like business situations, we applaud. When players do it, we scoff. Until that changes, more and more players who are ready to thrive in the NFL will feel compelled to continue to play for something far less than fair value.