Used to be a great college player was just that. A great college player. For three, or four years, depending on the era.
But now, for a great player like Leonard Fournette, the speculation is suffocating.
Will he win the Heisman? Should he try to petition the NFL to go pro after his sophomore year? Should he sit out next season and protect his valuable body from the punishment that another season in the almost NFL-like SEC would bring? I’m surprised someone hasn’t yet suggested Fournette make Saturday’s Eastern Michigan game his swan song and sit out the next season and a half, just for the shock jock value of such a “take.” Then again, Fox Sports’ Clay Travis may have trumped that by suggesting Fournette allow himself to be videotaped signing autographs for money, allowing him to be declared ineligible and taking away the stigma of voluntarily sitting out 2016.
Hey, we’re part of the noise. I took part in a spirited meeting in our newsroom Tuesday to talk about story ideas and coverage plans for Fournette’s march toward the Heisman. Booking a couple of rooms in the New York area for Heisman weekend is on my to-do list.
But it’s become such a bluster, Fournette took to Twitter late Tuesday night apparently in answer to all the calls for him to leave early:
“I will never jump ship… I’m drowning with my brothers,” he wrote.
One doesn’t exactly know if he means he will stay and play at LSU through this season, next season or his senior season. Fournette wasn’t made available to the local media this week, though he did speak to a couple of national news outlets.
Still, enough already. It’s time for a virtual mute button on this growing tidal wave of Fournette talk.
First, the season has to play out. Fournette has been fabulous, rushing for the most yards through three games (631) of any back in SEC history. And he’s facing the nation’s worst rush defense this week from Eastern Michigan (373.3 ypg). But it is just three games. He’s got a long way to go and a lot of tough defenses to face, defenses primed to stop him, between now and the end of the season.
But what about the college system, asking him to risk life and limb and future riches while playing for free? I don’t exactly subscribe to the theory that Fournette is being exploited by the college game, suffering without cashing in early on the NFL’s riches. Yes, he could potentially make millions, though the NFL’s still staunch rule prohibiting players from being drafted until they’re three years out of high school is highly unlikely to change.
But what if he simply enjoys college? Most everyone who goes to college says they are the best years of their lives, no matter what they go on to do in their professional careers. The potential experience of winning the Heisman, winning SEC and/or CFP championships is something a max NFL contract and shoe endorsement money simply can’t buy.
By the way, the young man is insured in case he gets hurt.
The third factor is the risk most think they know about but really don’t: the risk of sitting out a year. Would NFL GMs think Fournette isn’t committed to the game? Would he lose the edge only playing the game full speed can give? The argument is he wouldn’t risk getting hurt, but hey, life is a risk. And with modern surgery even if Fournette does injure a knee, he has a very good chance of coming back stronger than ever. The Marcus Lattimore scenario is certainly possible – multiple injuries that short-circuited a promising career – but it’s also low probability.
Here’s a thought. Let the young man be a young man, the only chance he gets. Let him enjoy college. Let him make his choices. Let him, likely, go pro after his junior season.
Just let him be Leonard Fournette, college football player, which right now looks like a pretty great thing to be.