One and done. Not quite, but college basketball’s modern day slogan for high school basketball’s elite has taken root in college football, and it feels like the beginning of something ultimately detrimental to another of this country’s favorite past times.
Relax and take a seat; I know that incoming freshmen are required to be 3 years removed from high school prior to entering the NFL Draft. What I’m about to do is make a comparison to what’s going on in college football to what’s been going on in college basketball since the “one-and-done” phenomenon began in 2005.
I may be in the minority when it comes to the following sentiment, but I hate the “one-and-done.” What was previously thought to be a beneficial way of keeping kids from jumping directly from high school into the pro’s, has acted more as a poison-pill for the once-great game of college hoops. Players with their eyes on the prize attend and play basketball at the university of their choice, leave immediately following the commencement of their inaugural season, and subsequently put their coach, their fans, and the game of college basketball back at square one. The big loser is the game; players lack symmetry, the game lacks fundamentals, and coaches miss the opportunity to truly nurture young men who are more consumed with raising THEIR stock, and maintaining THEIR health in an effort to secure the millions their talent has afforded them. It’s a team sport being played by individuals disinterested in the team, and the real loser has been the sport itself.
March Madness is and always will be a much anticipated event engrained in this country’s culture. It offers 2 weeks of excitement via unpredictable upsets, memorable finishes, and a little thing known simply as “your bracket.” Yet, even it has been diminished by the lack of familiarity of those playing by the fans who watch it, and I’m concerned the very thing responsible for chipping-away at an American sports’ institution, may eventually do the same to my personal favorite … college football.
Jadeveon Clowney will likely be the first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Since his visually appealing hit of a Michigan running back in the 2013 Outback Bowl, Clowney became more talked about than President Obama on a nationally syndicated right-wing radio show. It was all Clowney, all the time, and as the season grew nearer, a growing narrative surrounding Clowney and his future steadily picked up steam: Should a player seemingly physically ready for the grind of professional football, be forced to put his health and future earnings on the line during another year of college football that neither he needs, nor scouts need to see? Good question, but the answer many are looking for – no, that should be their decision and their decision alone – is the very reason college basketball’s slowly declined, and the reason I’m scared it’s going to do the same to college’s football game as well.
I like the 3-years-removed rule currently in place. Football is a physically grueling sport, and the level it’s played at professionally is not for the immature. For every Clowney, there are 100 other guys who while talented, don’t have the bodies prepared for the beating the NFL dishes out. Three years allows a player to mature physically, grow mentally, and in the process heighten his chances of succeeding not only on the football field, but in the game of life as well. One needn’t look beyond Ohio State’s Maurice Clarett to understand the necessary mentality to succeed, in spite of the obvious physique capable of playing with the “big boys.”
Why am I bringing this up now? Because I’m seeing the effects of the very cause I’m arguing against.
From the beginning of the 2013 football season, it was apparent to many that Jadeveon Clowney was compromising his effort in an attempt to protect himself from injury. For more than 6 months, the defensive end from South Carolina had been listening to people both inside and out of his inner circle, that he was the sure-fire first pick in the 2014 draft and that his health was to be trumped by nothing, including the needs of his team. Football was no longer about winning, but more about protecting what he and his family had coming. In the process, his game suffered, and his team suffered due to his apprehension.
And he’s not the only one. Locally, Oregon’s Colt Lyerla quit midway through the season to “prepare for the upcoming draft,” and the Ducks’ DeAnthony Thomas missed a third of the season due to an ankle injury insiders suggested he’d recovered from sooner. I’m not suggesting Thomas quit on his team, but am suggesting that his mindset changed prior to his junior year in an effort to protect his future.
Thomas is an interesting case because his talent is undeniable, but his stature is undeniably in question. Due to his lack of size, his position at the next level is an unknown. He’s too small to carry the load at the running back position, and is inexperienced playing full-time at receiver. He’d have benefitted from an opportunity to display his route-running and pass-catching ability, but instead seemingly chose to protect his interests by staying off the field. Since his departure from the team last month, he’s made it abundantly clear via various social media outlets, that he is and has been in a business mindset since his sophomore season ended with a Fiesta Bowl victory nearly 13 months ago. Even though still at Oregon, he had moved on mentally and chose to focus on the future, content on not letting the present get in his way.
I hate that. I hate that players like Clowney, Lyerla, and Thomas checked out before you, I, and likely even they truly want to, but business continues to invade our sports and this is just another sign as to the extent of which it does. As a fan, I want them to want it as much as I do. But as a rational human being, I understand the allure of what a future in professional sports can mean, and begrudgingly understand where players like the aforementioned are coming from.
But I don’t have to like it.
I love sports, and college football is likely my favorite. What I don’t love is the slow erosion of what makes them great, due to the money afforded those who truly excel at them. It’s been killing college basketball, diminished the level of skill at which the NBA is played, and is now in the infantile stages of holding college football ransom. The money has always been there, but the mindset behind the importance of it is the driving force responsible for the most recent invasion. It’s become okay to let others down, and expected to put “one’s” interests in front of the whole. That’s not a philosophy I aspire to in life, and it’s definitely not the philosophy sport was intended to nurture.