That question arose when Florida quarterback Tim Tebow elected to return for his senior season rather than declare for the recent NFL Draft. It is surfacing again now that Tennessee basketball star Tyler Smith has elected to return for his senior season rather than declare for the upcoming NBA Draft.
The two cases are strikingly similar.
Tebow has helped Florida win two national titles in three years. Because he has operated as a shotgun quarterback in a spread-option attack, however, pro scouts question his ability to move under center and manage a traditional offense.
Smith has helped Tennessee notch 52 wins, an SEC title and two NCAA Tournament bids in his two years on The Hill. Because he has operated as an undersized power forward close to the basket, however, pro scouts question his ability to handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter.
Given how much of head coach Urban Meyer's success is owed to Tebow, does Meyer owe it to his senior quarterback to put him under center occasionally so pro scouts can see how he responds?
Given how much of head coach Bruce Pearl's success is owed to Smith, does Pearl owe it to his senior forward to put him on the perimeter occasionally so pro scouts can see how he responds?
The answer in each case is no; the coach does not OWE the player a chance to showcase himself for the pros. All the coach owes the player is the opportunity to develop into the best college player he can be.
Meyer is paid handsomely to win games for the Florida Gators, not to turn individual players into first-round NFL Draft picks. Pearl is paid handsomely to win games for the Tennessee Vols, not to turn individual players into first-round NBA Draft picks.
With all of that said, the ethical thing for Meyer to do would be to occasionally put Tebow under center. The Gators are going to win a lot of football games by lopsided margins this fall, and giving Tebow a few traditional snaps in those games is not going to turn victory into defeat.
Likewise, the Vols are going to win a lot of basketball games by double-digit margins next winter, and giving Smith a few possessions on the perimeter isn't going to turn victory into defeat.
Coaches don't OWE their stars a chance to showcase themselves to pro scouts. Ethically, though, it's the right thing to do ... if you don't compromise your team's opportunity to win in the process.