What do the following players have in common? Reggie Bush, Terelle Pryor, Mariuce Clarett, Peter Warrick, Maurikce Pouncey, Cam Newton, Rhett Bomar, Lawrence Phillips and to make it interesting – O.J Mayo
Interestingly, they all have several things in common – they were all prized recruits – all, except Mayo, touched or have been within a win of the national championship trophy and all have or will leave their team in worse shape than when they arrived.
I’m sure you expect this diatribe to steer towards the familiar road of “The Case For Paying College Players” but it won’t. In fact, you can’t. The nuances of college sports and what make them great is exactly what prevents you from doing so. The fact remains however, a super star athlete, especially a superstar football player, at the college level is more often the fuse that ignites a negative PR bomb more than a “get over the hump to greatness” one.
I recently finished reading Tarnished Heisman – How Reggie Bush Turned His Last Year At USC to a Six Figure Job and got to thinking, do I really want my favorite team to get a player like that? The quick answers is yes. All college football fans are glued to their TV and computer for national signing day. Short of our bowl game, it’s the biggest day of the year.
What ranking we achieve by the recruitment review services is as much of a bragging point with our rivals as our record and/or bowl game finish. With each star that our recruits receive, more hope springs for the following 4 years. A thought out answer tells us a different story however.
Are USC fans glad that Reggie Bush is considered a Trojan? Will his number be retired? When you thought of Auburn a year ago, what came to mind versus what you think of now? ( Crimson Tide fans please refrain from answering this one – you skew my point ) Is it coincidence that post Bush, USC have lost their dominance? If so, what about Phillips at Nebraska? What about Pouncey at Florida? Clarett at OSU? What about the glaring post Warrick years at FSU?
Don’t get me wrong, there are several superstars that are never caught up in these media storms – Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, etc. But if you look at the averages, you can’t deny that the greatest teams are typified by a crescendo of winning years leading to utter dominance, then severe drop off.
It’s not because the teams can’t replace the talent, it’s because of the shock wave felt once their gone, both from a media standpoint and a game plan standpoint. You never wondered if Bush was going to get his yards every game but when Joe McNight took over the starting RB job ( McNight was also the #1 recruit in the nation when he came out of high school)
I doubt the other team had a defense, blitz package and spy designed specifically for him from the first play of the game. Players like these draw attention from the opposing defensive coordinator just as much as they do from ESPN‘s Game Day. The fact is, superstars make the other players around them better just as hitters benefit from batting behind Pujols, Cris Carter benefitted from the arrival of Randy Moss and (insert Jordan / Pippen, Kobe / Shaq, Magic / Jabbar reference here)
Adding to the headaches of departed stars are the pitfalls they often fall in to while at their university. All the aforementioned players had significant stories of misconduct to explain away, some of which added to the challenge of replacing them because of the imposed NCAA sanctions.
Replacing a star is hard enough, replacing a controversial star is impossible. Without Bush, USC would likely have won their national championship behind Lendale White and the stable of running backs they enjoyed. With Bush, they lost scholarships , the best recruiter in the pacific time zone, a Heisman Trophy, a percentage of their fans and the respect of college fans across the country. (They got Lane Kiffin back though!)
Lastly – We all know how much the NCAA hates cheaters…once their caught. ( Pre-conviction, the NCAA is rather fond of the revenues brought in by top-tier teams that dominate) Their unrelenting pursuit of improper benefits is second only to John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted in regards to “hunting down the bad guys.”
The NCAA is this strict because anything less than severe punishment of any impropriety is a swing in the direction of college football being a business ( which it is) and they can’t have that. By trumpeting the “passion of the game” and purity of college athletics” their coffers stay full while they 18-22 year olds kill each other in the weight room and on the field for the glorious payment of free tuition, room and board and food. And for the really good teams, there are goodie bags of portable DVD players and sweatshirts at the bowl game but you better not sell them or you’ll be expelled!
I root for my favorite college team with true passion and live and die with the scoreboard on Saturdays in the fall. I, as much as any fan, have my favorite players on the team and they are often the players scoring the most points, making the most tackles and featured in an expose by Erin Andrews.
With that said, I fear the day that my team gets a true top-level player that can change the outcome of a game by himself. The more media attention we receive, first place recruiting votes we garner and appearances at the Heisman ceremony we have, the closer we are to the dark days of “rebuilding.” Can you hear me post Gino Toretta Miami fans? Ok, ok…post Charles Woodson Michigan fans…no? Post Peyton Manning Tennessee fans?