There is No I in Team....But There Is in Recruiting

Once the college game becomes a nursery for professional gladiators, we shall have to plow up our football fields…... The day boys play with one eye on the university and the other on professional futures, the sport will become a moral liability to the colleges.” --Amos Alonzo Stagg 1929

After Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette announced they’d skip their bowl games to focus on the NFL Draft there was a predictable amount of hand-wringing. Would these two guys start an annual exodus of players skipping their teams’ bowl games?

They were criticized for putting their careers above the team’s goals. But this development should not be a surprise. Look at recruiting and you’ll see where the seeds for these decisions were sown. College coaches repeatedly sell their programs as the pathway to a long NFL career of riches. High school players are encouraged in recruiting to build their brand and social media following. Before many have even set foot in a college classroom they’ve built a near-celebrity persona that supersedes the team ethos.

For these young men, while the old adage says there is “no I in team”…but “there are two “Is” in recruiting.” When you start by selling them, their families and friends on the idea they must build their brand on their path to the NFL we should not be shocked when an individual decision for their own future clashes with the team’s goal.

No one sells them on the idea that the NFL is a tough road with long odds. This past week The Washington Post tracked the Top 100 players from the 2007 recruiting class. Just 16 of them are still in the NFL before their 29th birthday…16% and these are supposed to be the 100 best players.

Players and their family have simply bought what we sold to them about how good they are and the NFL. A society hyping every step of a recruiting process as early as ninth grade shouldn’t be surprised to see players thinking about themselves. And don’t be surprised if this trend grows.

It’s hard to blame a young man for making a decision to protect his potential value. They’ve learned their lessons as part of a large money-making college football enterprise. We hardly question the loyalty of coaches who bolt before a bowl game for another job that pays more money. They’re doing it for their career and families. Well…..so are the players.

For fans upset that your favorite player may skip your team’s bowl game—you will survive. It may cheapen the idea that your favorite player is only here to give his all for good old State U. You may not like the decision but you should respect it. It aligns with the growing money-first value system emerging in big-time college athletics from recruiting through the draft.

Amos Alonzo Stagg was right to worry about a sport played by players eying their professional futures. The money in college athletics has become a moral liability for the schools. But let’s not blame the players for taking their cues from society, our Universities and coaches.

These players have talent, a skill set that people are willing to pay for. They have a right to pursue the path they believe will take them to their future. No one cared when Bill Gates declared early for his professional career after just two years at Harvard.

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© 2014 Jay Paterno