The first Clardy's Corner of the 2004 season isn't supposed to come your way until next week, but with this week's developments down in South Central, I just couldn't wait. I had to jump the gun.
Just like Mike Williams.
Plainly and simply, there was no other possible ending to this story. All the ingredients that raise red flags with the NCAA—amateurism, agents, and academics (or lack thereof)—are here in this case. Add those things up, and this outcome was inevitable.
Why is everyone conveniently forgetting that no one held a gun to Mike Williams' head and told him to try jumping ship to the NFL? That no one forced him to try to ride Maurice Clarett's coattails into the pros, despite the obstacles that were still to be cleared before draft day?
None of this happens if Mike Williams says to himself, "You know, I'm one of the best players on one of the best football programs in the country. We have a shot at an actual, real live national championship, one that we can claim all to ourselves. I'll probably be in the room when they present the Heisman Trophy. This Maurice Clarett thing is awfully risky, and life as a U$C football player is pretty good, especially for me. I can wait until I'm eligible for the NFL next year…and then I'll really get paid!"
Instead, Mike Williams decided to overlook one of life's basic rules: Don't leave unless you've got someplace else to go. And now, this unnecessary gamble will cost him what could have been the finishing pieces on a brilliant collegiate career.
Here are some of the arguments I've heard as to why some people seem to think the NCAA's decision is the biggest travesty of all time:
The NCAA did not do the right thing by its student-athlete. How did Mike Williams do the right thing by the NCAA? By deciding to disregard his academic schedule? By deciding to hire an agent? By deciding to do his best to become as ineligible as he possibly could? By leaving no doubt that U$C and the NCAA was no longer in his plans?
They're denying a student athlete a chance at an education. Who does anyone who makes this argument think they're fooling? Mike Williams did not jump through the summer school hoops just because he wants a degree. He did it because he knew it was his only chance to play football. Now Williams says he's going to stay in school. If he does, great. More power to him. But where do you think Mike Williams is going to be this winter? In a classroom somewhere in South Central working on his degree? Or hanging out at the NFL combine and visiting franchises all over the country?
The timing of the decision stinks. Somehow I seriously doubt that Pete Carroll was counting on Mike Williams to help the Trojans beat the Hokies. I also seriously doubt that the players are distraught over losing a teammate that they were very unlikely to have back anyway. And if they were, then U$C deserves to have a long, disappointing season.
The decision hurts the welfare of the U$C players. Ummm, like Mike Williams' decision to bolt the program didn't hurt the welfare of the U$C players? And if that didn't hurt his teammates' feelings, I'm sure the way Williams slammed them publicly and called them out on their lack of work ethic did.
Most folks are pointing fingers at Indianapolis, but the NCAA isn't at fault here. As I said on the BootBoard Plus, once you ring the "I'm-turning-pro" bell, the NCAA isn't going to let you unring it. Nor should they. If there's one surefire way to get on the NCAA's bad side, it's to try to tamper with the amateur spirit of collegiate sports. Ask Jeremy Bloom for this thoughts on this.
The NFL isn't at fault. Teenagers have absolutely no business being in the NFL. They aren't ready physically, and they're nowhere near ready mentally. Both the NCAA and the NFL have these kinds of rules for a reason. Say what you might about how these rules have been enforced in this situation, but those rules are for the benefit of everyone involved.
U$C isn't at fault. In fact, their actions throughout this saga have been commendable. After the way he tried to leave that program, they didn't need to accommodate Mike Williams at all. They could very easily have returned the favor and left the young man twisting in the wind. Instead, they went out of their way to stand by the kid, even though I suspect they knew how this all would turn out.
And while I think the NCAA has taken the honorable stance, there's no question that there is at least one dishonorable motive behind it. The NCAA is watching early-entry kill college basketball (it's also killing American basketball as a whole, and I don't think we needed the Olympics to figure that out). The NCAA would be damned before it lets early-entry kill college football, its cash cow. Just like anything else, you gotta follow the money.
But I don't think there's any question that the NCAA, in a brief moment of clarity, did the right thing. U$C did the right thing. The only one who dropped the ball here was Mike Williams.
-- Coming Wednesday: a full Clardy's Corner!
Troy Clardy is a reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, which airs Saturday mornings at 8:30 on Fox Sports Bay Area.
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