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Be smart; turn pro

Every year, when the time comes for the NFL and NBA drafts, there are a handful of prominent college athletes who make themselves eligible for the draft despite the fact that turning pro will require them to leave college 'early', without graduating. (A few basketball players have even skipped college entirely, going straight from high school to the NBA. To my knowledge, this hasn't yet happened in the NFL.*)

This usually produces some howls of protest from various media figures, for reasons that I don't exactly understand. The idea that these kids should stay in school and continue to earn boatloads of money for the university while seeing none themselves - oh, I suppose you can count free tuition and free room and board, which, at a state school, adds up to what - $30,000? - for the sake of some pollyannaish concept of amateur sports 'purity' is just crazy. They have a chance to make millions by turning pro, and a chance to get injured and make nothing by staying in school. If I were a college running back, with only so many years of football in me, and I had the choice between potentially being a number one pick (which means a multi-million dollar signing bonus) and sticking around campus for another year tearing my body up that much more to make money for an institution that couldn't give me my fair share even if they wanted to ... well, that wouldn't even be a choice.

King Kaufman, Salon's excellent sports writer, has more or less the same take on the matter:
... if you're an underclassman who's projected as a high draft pick, your decision is easy: Go to the pros.

...The priority of coaches at a big-time program like Texas, where a single loss can scuttle a season, is to win every game, at whatever cost. Vince Young's future means nothing to them. If running him on endless naked bootlegs is the Longhorns' best bet to win one Saturday, they'll run him out there on play after play ... And if he hangs in there and just takes a yearlong pounding that damages him for the future? Hey, he's somebody else's problem after the bowl game ...

If he turns pro he gets a seven- and maybe even an eight-figure signing bonus and will become eligible for the potential big money of unrestricted free agency one year sooner than if he played his senior year at Texas.

...There's the cautionary tale of Adewale Ogunleye, a projected first-round pick who returned for his senior season at Indiana, got hurt, and went undrafted. Ogunleye's a star for the Chicago Bears now with a big contract, but that injury cost him millions that he'll never get back.

And Ogunleye's one of the lucky ones. His college injury didn't end his playing career.

...while quarterbacks are more vulnerable to injury on any given play than running backs, running backs take a greater beating, and they tend to get old in a hurry ... So Bush is looking at putting himself another 300-plus plays closer to his expiration date without getting paid ... 300 plays is probably significantly more than 10 percent of Bush's remaining career.

He'd have to be crazy or stupid to donate them to USC.

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