Starting right here and right now, if you're a current college football player and a top 50 NFL prospect, if you suffer a Marcus Lattimore-like injury and you lose millions of dollars because of it, it's 100 percent completely and totally your fault.
You just had your wake-up call after Lattimore dislocated his knee and damaged ligaments, placing his football future in question.
No more tears. No more Twitter shout-outs. No more prayers. No, from here on, now that you all know the risks, if you're an elite of the elite prospect and you get injured playing college football, then that's on you for not taking charge of your own life, your own future and your own body.
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And the coaches need to be the adults in the room to help the process.
In 2006, Oklahoma junior superstar Adrian Peterson injured himself late against Iowa State on a meaningless touchdown run in a blowout game. As he missed the rest of the regular season, I went on a rant arguing that a player with that much NFL talent and that much earning potential shouldn't play another down of college football, especially in light of what happened to former Miami Hurricanes star Willis McGahee, who was projected to be a top five overall pick before losing millions in draft positioning when he blew out his knee against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Even though Peterson's Sooners were off to play in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State, I hollered that the game was essentially meaningless and that Peterson, by playing against the Broncos, was throwing his pants in the washing machine with a winning lottery ticket in the back pocket.
And I was lit up like a Christmas tree for it.
Oklahoma die-hards blew up my inbox. I was on the business end of a blasting from Bob Stoops. Fans kept coming at me with the juvenile "it's not about the money" type of rhetoric that only comes from people whose dough isn't on the line. But I've pressed on every year since with a similar sort of desperate plea for coaches to do a better job of advising their superstar NFL prospects, and every year someone else screws up their business future by falling for the same crap about pushing themselves to 11 for State U -- and for the coaches' job security.
If you're a legitimate top 50 NFL draft prospect, and if you're really and truly a football player, then you want to be in The League as soon as humanly possible. You want to be playing at the highest level and on the biggest stage, and yeah, it's OK to dream about being a millionaire.
The Gamecocks might still have a desperate dream of being in the SEC East title chase, but they were more likely playing for nothing more than a regular season win as the next step before playing in some New Year's Day exhibition bowl. But there was Lattimore, despite a history of suffering major injuries, risking his future and millions upon millions of dollars.
One awful leg injury later, and now the former No. 1 running back prospect for the 2013 NFL draft is, at best, going to sink like a rock whenever he goes through the cruel and heartless process. He might play in the pros someday, but it's asking too much to expect him to ever be the type of back who can last long enough to get the gigantic paper that comes from a second NFL contract, and at worst, beyond the obvious quality-of-life health concerns, there's a chance he'll never be able to play at a high level ever again. Doctors are saying he should be able to get back on the field next year, but with his history he won't be drafted anywhere near as high as he would've had he spent this year working out and saving his body for the pros.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro was such a can't-miss prospect coming out of Stanford that we called him the safest pick in the 2012 draft. Because he's a guard, he slid down the first round a bit, but he still got picked 24th overall and signed a four-year deal worth close to $8 million with around $4.4 million guaranteed. Before ever playing a regular season down, he suffered a frightening fluke of an injury in the preseason and was knocked out for the year, maybe longer, but he's getting paid while he's doing his rehabilitation. Had this injury happened in a senior year at Stanford, his draft stock would've fallen through the floor to around the third round, at best.
College football is a game for the fans, the students and the masses of players who'll never see a pro camp, but it's a business for the coaches and the top NFL prospects.
Most players will end up working in a cubicle for the rest of their lives, so for them, yeah, despite the CTE concerns and other potential health hazards, they should go ahead and live the dream for as long as humanly possible. College football is special, and any current NFL player will tell you that they loved their time spent on campus. But in the same breath, and I've asked, those same pros agree with me that a top prospect should get out the second he's allowed.
It's sweet that there was such an outpouring of emotion for Lattimore after what happened on Saturday, but thoughts are meaningless and your prayers aren't going to make up for all the money he lost. If you really feel bad for the guy, and for all of you who keep arguing about the "love of the game" and how "money isn't everything," write him a check.
Is Steve Spurrier going to make up the difference?
Oh yes, it's so, so easy for head coaches with millions upon millions of dollars in the bank to put these kids out on the field to keep the machine rolling. Steve, if you really care about your players, and if you're going to sit in a living room and tell a mother that you're going to look out for the best interests of her son, then it's time to prove it. Jadeveon Clowney will be your test case.
Steve, you just went through a devastating professional tragedy with Lattimore, and now you have another sure-thing multi-millionaire with a brilliant future under your command. If you really and truly care about the health, well-being, and future of your players, then you call Clowney into your office right now and you tell him the following.
"Son, you will always be a part of South Carolina football, and you can stick around, use your scholarship, and get your degree, but you're never going to play a down of football again for me because I care about you and your future too much. Selfishly, I'd love nothing more than to have you on that field for another few years, but the risk is too great for a player of your potential. I've checked for you, and I've been told that you're going to almost certainly going to be a first-round draft pick in 2014, with an excellent chance of going in the top five, so I'm advising that you hire an agent who'll pay for one of the several training academies out there to prepare you for pre-draft workouts. You'll build up and mature your body, and you'll work with independent positional coaches to improve your technique and skill. You have a brilliant life ahead both financially and professionally, and I'm not going to let you risk it all by playing football here at South Carolina."
At the same time, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham should be having the same conversation with his star defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei. Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley needs to call Justin Hunter into his office, and Arkansas' John L. Smith should be having a sit-down with Tyler Wilson. North Carolina head man Larry Fedora has absolutely no excuse to let Giovani Bernard play another snap, because there's really and truly nothing for him to play for on an ineligible team.
So you still think I'm crazy? You still think this idea flies in the face of all that's right and good about sport and competition? Here's the really wild part – any coach who does this, especially a legendary coach like Spurrier, will benefit in a big way. Just imagine the recruiting pitch.
"Mr. Five-Star prospect, everyone else might say they care about you, and every coach might want you to be a part of their family, but look what I did with Clowney. I care about him and his family so much that I put his future and potential first and foremost ahead of anything else. If you're good enough, and if you do exactly what we say and develop like I think you can, I'll do everything I can to make sure all of your dreams come true."
Every kid - EVERY kid – would want to sign that instant.
No NFL general manager worth his salt wants to see Clowney, Matt Barkley, Jarvis Jones or any of the other top prospects play another down. GMs already know what these guys can do, and they'd much rather get a superstar player with less tread worn off the tires. Oh sure, there would be a backlash from the public and the media, but at the end of the day, any player whose team is out of the running for anything more than a bowl game would probably improve his draft stock by leaving now and working on becoming a professional.
Of course, this will never happen, and every year there will be another Marcus Lattimore who'll get hurt and lose millions.
And the people will have more thoughts and more prayers.