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Volume 68, Issue 141, Friday, April 25, 2003


Draft can hurt underclassmen

Cougar Pause

Tom Carpenter

Forty-five underclassmen declared themselves eligible for Sundayis NFL draft, surrendering their college days to try to make it with the pros.

The cream of the crop of college underclassmen continue to leap into the glamorous world of professional sports and what they hope will be a lucrative income in the spotlight.

Itis hard to argue against a talented young man or woman who grabs for the gold ring during their ride on the mercurial merry-go-round of life.

"Going for the gusto" is what America is all about.

Incredible riches await those who succeed, like Michael Vick of Virginia Tech. Vick opted to turn pro after his sophomore year and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons as the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft.

Vickis talent and determination established him as a star in the NFL his rookie season. But for every Vick -- and this rings true for every sport, not just football -- many young men who leave college early find themselves lost in an abyss of empty dreams.

Who can blame them for believing in themselves and their talent? Thatis to be admired.

After all, one of the reasons for getting a college education is to evolve and mature as an individual, and that includes developing confidence.

Another reason many undergraduates declare for the NFL draft, and probably the strongest argument for leaving school early, is the threat of a career-ending injury destroying any chance for the athlete to reap the rewards that his skill and athleticism can earn.

Athletes who consider leaving college early to pursue a pro career need only look at what happened to Miami sophomore running back Willis McGahee to support their decision. 

McGahee declared for the draft as a sophomore after tearing up his knee in the Fiesta Bowl against the NCAA champion Ohio State Buckeyes. McGahee decided he might as well rake in whatever money he can while his knees remain strong.

Even a brief professional career will set a man up for life, when you consider the extravagant bonuses top athletes receive today.

However, for every Michael Vick there is a Ryan Leaf.

Leaf left Washington State at the end of his junior year and was the No. 2 pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 draft.

San Diego fans and management saw Leaf as the savior of their franchise, but the heavy bonus Leaf received and the strain of living up to the "savior" name tag got the best of him.

Leafis pro career bombed worse than a Saddam Hussein counter-attack.

No doubt the exorbitant money Leaf received as a signing bonus, $11.25 million, will ease his pain at being dubbed the embodiment of underachievement, but will he ever recover from the destruction of his self-confidence? I doubt it.

At least 168 underclassmen left college early for the pro football ranks since 1998, with a high of 39 in 2001.

Professional sport as a career is an anomaly, an aberration. A pro sports career usually doesnit last long when compared to conventional professions; for instance, the average running back career lasts three years.

This yearis mass exodus, the largest in recent history, embraces the growing trend of athletes leaving school early, and thatis too bad from my perspective.

College fans are robbed of watching these terrific athletes perform until they graduate, but you canit blame them for grabbing the money while the grabbing is good.

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