Between the Lines

Let's say you're a 17 year-old high school senior who has been groomed for football stardom ever since someone first recognized that your God-given ability on the gridiron could potentially punch your ticket on the express to big-time success.

Let's say, you fulfill the prophecy as a high school phenom, giving further credence to long-range predictions that said you'd one day play on Sunday's, and we're not talking about in the backyard or fantasy leagues. We're talking about the NFL, where if you're not making at least a million a year, well, you're just not making it.

Anyway you slice it, if you're able to put together a five-year career in the pros at average wages you can set your financial future for life. Get a first round signing bonus, ala Heath Shuler, or a first pick signing bonus, i.e. Peyton Manning, and your golden years can be 24 karat.

For instance: If figures estimating Manning's signing bonus in the $11 million range in 1998 are correct, consider that it would take 110 years making $100,000 a year to equal that amount. How's that for financial security?

You don't need an accounting degree to see how football can be a profitable pursuit and provide a high-profile lifestyle. It's the type of life most can only dream of and one that holds a particularly powerful appeal to a young man growing up on the mean streets of Inner City, U.S.A.

No doubt, there are an array of variables when it comes to signing those prospects that represent the cream of the country's crop — defined as prospects falling into the one-hundredth of one percent of high school players nationally. But when most top 100 prospects are pushed for a primary reason for casting their lot with Tennessee, they most often cite the Vols track record for placing players in the League. They can see that proving yourself in the type of pressure cooker environment that surrounds Big Orange football is excellent preparation for life in the League.

They know they are going to gain plenty of exposure and can earn an opportunity to go out early — the Vols have lost 10 players to the NFL with eligibility remaining in the last four years alone – which is particularly attractive to someone who is dedicated, but not necessarily to academic achievement.

Instead, they pour their blood, sweat and tears into the pursuit of that brass ring. They develop their skills, perfect techniques, learn schemes, condition their bodies, prepare their minds and build experience. They also risk their health while putting their talents on the line competing against the best in the college game.

In the process, they help gain positive exposure for the university which equates to revenues and an attractive environment for students who love athletics and want that as part of their college experience. Sometimes the school's licensing departments will use said star's number to help sell jerseys, and they aren't in any way entitled to share in the proceeds.

And how much would the promo spots that run for competing universities in a national telecast cost if they weren't given as part of the broadcast rights? How many UT games were picked up for national broadcasts in 1997 simply because Peyton Manning was the Heisman Trophy favorite? Ditto for Michael Vick at Virginia Tech in 1999 and 2000?

The question is if a player wants a career in the NFL and has demonstrated the potential to get there, shouldn't they be allowed to major in an Advanced Football program that gives them the best opportunity to realize their goal of playing professional football?

Schools award scholarships to gifted musicians, singers and writers and don't expect them to study business, biology and math, so why shouldn't they do the same for gifted athletes? It doesn't fall into the purvey of pure academics, but it could contain legitimate studies on nutrition, physical fitness, public speaking, kinetics, money management etc., which would be good to know if you're determined to reach the NFL.

Additionally, it would end the hypocritical practice of padding a player's academic schedule for the sole purpose of staying qualified and eligible to play football.

Even if you don't make it to NFL, you could still obtain a degree that would have broad application in the sports market place. Let's face it, football is a huge part of any Division I university and to treat it like it's not a viable professional pursuit is to ignore reality.

On the same subject, it seems like funds should be set aside to provide insurance for college players with NFL potential, who elect to stay in school because they want to obtain an education in an unrelated field. If they are injured they would have coverage which they might not be able to afford otherwise.

It's a way to keep more players in the college game and give something back to those exceptional talents who give more to a university than they ever get back.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories