Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't Skip Your Senior Year

I come from a family of educators.

My mother was an elementary school teacher for much of her adult life. My father taught religion and philosophy on the college level, like his father before him.

And my father's mother taught English for awhile when she was young.

I was raised with an appreciation for education, and I have often told friends that I do not think a student who has been given an athletic scholarship should be allowed to skip his senior year. I see a scholarship as being a binding commitment, like a contract.

Now, I understand about students leaving college for one reason or another. I had friends who left college when I was still in school. But none of them had been given a scholarship.

And, as far as I know, none ever went back to get his degree.

You're only young once, and people tend to get tied to life's other commitments as they get older. I'm not married, and I have no children, but I realize that it gets harder and harder to go back to school when you have children to clothe and feed and house payments to make; by the time those obligations are behind you, the spirit may still be willing but the flesh may be decidedly weak.

Prominent athletes have never asked me for advice on this topic (or any other, for that matter), but, if they did, that advice usually would be to stay in school.

It's been my observation that those who leave college early usually don't return. I will admit that there have been some exceptions to that rule, but they have been rare — almost as rare, it seems, as athletes who decide to stick it out for their senior years.

I can understand the temptation of the money and the fame — and the fear of the very real possibility that it could all be taken away in the wink of an eye. But that is a constant risk in life, is it not? Even those whose talents are not likely to make them either rich or famous run such risks wherever they are and whatever they are doing.

Athletes who leave school early to turn pro (or those who support that decision) frequently say — and with some justification — that their window of opportunity is short.

But that window might not even be open this year.

The NFL is currently in the midst of talks about its collective bargaining agreement that, so far, have been unproductive.

If a collective bargaining agreement is not in place, it is hard to see how anyone, rookie or veteran, can get a contract. And some people believe a work stoppage in the NFL could easily wipe out the 2011 season.

It seems to me that college athletes who have been in college for three years have a tough choice to make — if they haven't already made it. Should they stay in school? Or should they turn pro?

Given the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement that is due to expire in 2½ weeks, a football player who skips his senior season to turn pro might not play in another game of football for more than a year. He'd need to find a source of income, and he would have to find a way to stay in shape until 2012 — or whenever the NFL resolves the conflict.

If he stays in school, though, he can continue to polish his skills with the school picking up the tab. He would still run the risk of getting hurt — but he could be injured driving his car or walking up (or down) a flight of stairs.

I'd stay in school. You can get your degree, and you can continue to play football ... which is a sure thing in college but a far less sure thing on the next level.

At least this year.

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