|Bob Leverone/Associated Press|
|Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore year at South Carolina.|
Jadeveon Clowney, a standout sophomore defensive end at South Carolina, almost certainly will be a top pick whenever he decides to enter the NFL draft. He can't turn pro until 2014 at the earliest, though, because NFL rules state all prospective draftees must be at least three years removed from high school. Clowney reportedly is seeking an insurance policy against injury for this upcoming college season, and some folks are suggesting the Gamecocks star sit out 2013 entirely, or even sue the NFL to enter this April's draft. What's your take on the situation?
Clowney would be taking a huge risk in challenging the age restrictionUnfortunately for Jadeveon Clowney, there's no easy answer to this question.
Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams serve as strong cautionary tales on what can happen to young players if they're outside the structure of football for an extended period of time and suddenly come upon a pile of money. Williams wound up woefully out of shape and unprepared for the NFL. Clarett, with two years away, wound up a criminal. And the failure of either to win in the courts -- despite everyone saying for years that overturning the three-years-out-of-high-school rule would be easy -- should be enough to deter Clowney from going down the trail those guys blazed.
The lockout reinforced the lesson, too: The courts will avoid wading into labor law at nearly any cost. The age restriction was collectively bargained, giving the legal system an out in cases like these.
So unless Clowney is comfortable risking being on his own for the next year (after fighting a potentially losing battle in court) and mature enough to handle it, the only choice is to go back to Columbia for his junior season. NFL types will respect him for this, of course, because it'll show that his love of the game ranks right with his desire to get rich off it. And as we've seen in the past, even if he has a serious injury, chances are he'll still have an NFL future ahead of him. Remember, Willis McGahee was a first-round pick less than four months after blowing out his knee.
This might not be fair. But if you're talking about what's right for the kid, as an individual, that would probably be going back to school. Only if he's trying to effect greater change, and open doors for others in the future, do you have a different story.
Forget catastrophic injuries -- more careers are ruined by players bolting too soonI am strongly against any player entering the NFL before he's three years removed from high school. In fact, if it was up to me, I'd raise the restriction to four years removed from high school.
There is more to being successful in the NFL than just having the physical talent to play in the NFL. Many times, the success or failure of a player revolves around his maturity level. That is why I believe the longer they stay in school, the better chance they have to be productive in the NFL.
I understand the injury argument, but it is rare that an injury completely destroys a player's future NFL career. I believe more players fail because they leave school too early and are not ready to play in the NFL.
Clowney's taking the best approach in seeking an insurance policyThere is still enough of the idyllic youth who grew up loving football to be outraged by the mere mention of sitting out the season. Doesn't Jadeveon Clowney love to play the game?
Then again, the practical side of me understands why Clowney would have some reservations about playing his junior year at South Carolina. He's risking millions by taking the field. So I get that, too.
Ultimately, he's making the right choice by looking for an insurance policy. Even if he looks like a surefire No. 1 pick at the moment, Clowney still could use some more football experience to make sure he stays there.
Age restrictions protect athletes from themselvesIt drives me crazy that I keep hearing about changing the rules of entry into the NBA and NFL following high-profile injuries. "You can't stop people from making a living." ... "You're holding the players back." ... "You're jeopardizing their careers if they get hurt." Last time I checked, playing in the NFL/NBA isn't the only way to make a living. You can go from high school right into plenty of jobs. But if you want a specific one, you have to follow certain rules -- just like everyone else. There's a reason why you can't go from high school to a law firm. Or drop out after two years of college and get a job on Wall Street. (Although we should try that -- it could actually improve the Dow.) But I digress.
We hear about cases like Nerlens Noel and Jadeveon Clowney because they're special athletes. I feel bad for Noel, as I do for any player who suffers a serious injury. But what everyone fails to realize is that the rule isn't there for those players personally. It's there to protect the other 95 percent of athletes, many of whom make bad decisions, looking to either go straight from high school into professional sports (NBA) or leave college before they're ready (NFL).
There's no doubt in my mind Clowney could do it at the next level right now -- and he'd be a superstar. But what if you change the rule on early entry? What about everyone else? Many players who think they might be ready will get bad advice, turn pro and get drafted much lower than they expected (if at all). These guys won't be physically or emotionally prepared for the NFL. They needed another season or two of college. Needed to improve draft stock, needed to improve chances of success. These are the ones who will wind up washing out of the game in two years, not making any money and having to find another direction in life. Fun times, huh? There would be 10 to 15 of these players per year. This is who the rule is in place for.