Those mean old men of the NFL and the NCAA. How dare they use and abuse poor Jadeveon Clowney like this?
I mean here he is, the All-American defensive end from South Carolina, the fearsome pass-rusher and run-stuffer who would be the unquestioned No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL draft - if only those giant corporate gatekeepers would allow him to enter it after his sophomore season in college.
"They're using him!" critics of the NCAA system wail. "Stars like Clowney bring millions to the universities, while not being paid a dime, and now he has to risk injuring himself before he can sign a pro contract! It's outrageous!"
Well, of course, it's outrageous. Who are the NFL and the NCAA to collude on a system that forbids players from turning professional until three years after their high school graduating class? After all, Justin Bieber has been a pro since age 13, signing his first contract with Usher's record label in 2009. And Honey Boo Boo has been earning roughly $20,000 per episode for her family of misfits - at age 7. So, of course, they're using Clowney. All 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds of him.
Isn't he using them, too?
Truth is, in the world of major college and professional football, everyone is using everyone else.
The NFL has an unbeatable business model. Unlike Major League Baseball, professional franchises don't have to fund their minor-league programs, providing facilities, scouts, coaches and instructors who work with young
But, clearly, the NFL is using the NCAA.
The NCAA, however, has its own model, nearly as golden.
For the cost of a few hundred scholarships each year, spread out to revenue-generating and non-revenue sports on every campus, the major universities and conferences rake in hundreds of millions of dollars per year for preparing their best young players for the pros, while educating the second- and third-tier players for life after the game. It's a terrific system for everyone, provided those second- and third-tier players recognize their place and truly take advantage of the free educational ride provided for them.
For those who don't, however, the system is patently unfair. The athletes who never make it to pros have still contributed to the millions of dollars their universities will take in during the course of their careers. If these kids fail to graduate, due in large part to over-valuing their own chances of making it to the next level, the colleges aren't going to go back and offer them four more free years to attend classes and start over again. They've gotten what they wanted from the player, who is now on his own.
So, yes, the NCAA is certainly using student-athletes.
But when it comes down to it, virtually every Division I college football player who signs on the dotted line and shows up for his first training camp as a freshman does so with professional stars in his eyes. If he was heavily recruited enough to earn a full scholarship, he has been led to believe he is among the elite of the elite, and visions of NFL dollars certainly dance in his head at certain points in time during his college career.
Precisely what is the route to NFL glory and million-dollar contracts? The route through college football greatness, of course.
In other words, if Jadeveon Clowney had simply graduated from high school as a big, strong kid who dominated other 18-year-olds at the level at which he competed, would he have been viewed as a potential top pick in the draft two years ago? Would teams have been ready to hand him a $30-million contract based on promise alone?
Of course not.
He needed a proving ground to show NFL scouts what he could do against the highest amateur competition in the world. He needed a place to grow, to mature, and to truly demonstrate his value to a prospective employer, leaving no doubt as to his worth.
South Carolina, and on a larger scale, the NCAA, provided him with that proving ground.
To his credit, Clowney took full advantage of it, and is now in line, provided he does not have a fall-off year in his junior season, to cash in on that multi-million dollar dream.
So, yes, Clowney - along with every other would-be NFL star - is using the NCAA.
Clowney's status as the top-pick-in-waiting for 2014 has many agents and advisers telling him to sit out his junior season, to avoid the risk of injury that could hurt his stock and his professional earning potential. If the NFL won't waive its rule and allow the sophomore to enter the draft this year, they argue, he should spend the next calendar year training and preparing his body for the 2014 NFL season, but without competing in college football.
Clowney is in line for a life-changing NFL contract due in large part to the faith placed, and the opportunity given to him by the University of South Carolina. His letter of intent and his scholarship contract indicate his commitment to play four years for the Gamecocks, even though the university is well aware that elite athletes may indeed leave after their junior seasons.
For Clowney to quit after his sophomore season, without even being able to turn pro, would be violating the spirit, if not the actual terms of his contract with the school. No matter how great the temptation, or how loud the outside voices, he should not do so.
The money will be there later, Jadeveon. Strap 'em up. You've got a season to play.