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Kentucky Wildcats: Go Early Or Risk Injury Making More Sense Than Ever

With the career-threatening injury to Marcus Lattimore, questions are being asked about the wisdom of playing college sports for any longer than necessary.

Should the NFL draft early entry age be lowered?
Should the NFL draft early entry age be lowered?

Pete Fiutak at had a thought-provoking piece today making the essential point that playing college football is a risky endeavor that deserves more thought by both coaches and players. Here is the gist of his argument that I want to highlight:

Steve [Spurrier], you just went through a devastating professional tragedy with Lattimore, and now you have another sure-thing multi-millionaire with a brilliant future under your command. If you really and truly care about the health, well-being, and future of your players, then you call [Jadeveon] Clowney into your office right now and you tell him the following.

"Son, you will always be a part of South Carolina football, and you can stick around, use your scholarship, and get your degree, but you’re never going to play a down of football again for me because I care about you and your future too much. Selfishly, I’d love nothing more than to have you on that field for another few years, but the risk is too great for a player of your potential. I’ve checked for you, and I’ve been told that you’re going to almost certainly going to be a first-round draft pick in 2014, with an excellent chance of going in the top five, so I’m advising that you hire an agent who’ll pay for one of the several training academies out there to prepare you for pre-draft workouts. You’ll build up and mature your body, and you’ll work with independent positional coaches to improve your technique and skill. You have a brilliant life ahead both financially and professionally, and I’m not going to let you risk it all by playing football here at South Carolina."

Let's look at the obvious -- it's too much to ask a coach to care so much about his charges that he jeopardizes his own future as a head coach. It would be nice if all coaches were that altruistic, but it's just not a reasonable expectation in today's multi-million dollar coaching salary world. We could have a debate about salaries, but that's beyond the scope of this article.

What we could have, though, is a middle ground. The NFL collective bargaining agreement is in some part responsible for this state of affairs. There are always a few players who are good enough after their first or second year to be a draft pick. Perhaps they should reconsider their position, and reduce the college time from 3 years to 2.

Of course, that won't happen. But there does happen to be one coach of a major program in this country who does exactly this, although he's reviled for it more than applauded -- John Calipari, coach of the basketball Kentucky Wildcats.

When it was rumored that Calipari informed some of his charges that he would tear up their scholarship papers rather than let them decline to enter the NBA draft, many scoffed at this. The truth is, however, that this kind of selfless honesty, the willingness to put his own program in the hands of inexperienced freshmen rather than ask a player to play one year more than they need to play to be an NBA draft pick is the right thing to do, and this article just reinforces that reality.

Calipari understands the risks, and makes sure his players understand them, too. A serious injury to a knee or a hip can throw a great prospect's draft status into a tailspin, potentially costing him millions of dollars and even an entire career. This is one of the primary reasons the NBA players union fights so hard against raising the age limit, and it is not without justification. With that said, the legitimate business interests of the professional leagues also must be considered, and their position is generally that older, seasoned players are more ready to compete right away.

Football requires far more physical maturity to play at a high level than basketball, but every year there are a select few who meet those requirements, yet they risk their future by playing in college for three years. At some point, some smart person is going to point to the Willis McGahees, the Adrian Petersons and the Marcus Lattimores and make the reasonable argument that a college education is not worth millions of dollars.

Now, where have we heard that argument before? What do you think -- should the NFL reconsider it's position?