Georgia running back Todd Gurley has declared for the NFL Draft, which everyone knew was going to happen. Unfortunately, Gurley tore his ACL 2 weekends ago, while running toward the endzone. He was not hit; the thing just snapped. This happens in football all the time.
Fortunately for Todd his career won't end like say that of Gayle Sayers, who thought he just had a swollen knee (he kept playing). No, Todd will go to the NFL and make quite a bit of money. Or so we hope he does. He is the best running back in college football, and probably has been for the last 3 years.
All of this begs the question: Why did Gurley have to stay in college and abuse his body, which in turn has probably cost him millions of dollars?
There's no question Gurley was likely prepared to go to play pro football after his freshman year, and without question after his sophomore year. So why in the world would the NFL/NCAA hold him back?
I know the obvious answers, that they don't want to end up like the NBA, and that most college football players are not physically ready to handle the NFL. I get that, and it's obvious. This being the case, the likelihood is most college football players wouldn't be prepared to go to the NFL until their junior season anyway, at the very least. The number of underclassmen NFL teams would draft in the first round who would be limited. But even if it wasn't, who cares? Buyer beware, right? There would certainly be many failed prospects who came out to early, which in turn would deter them from doing so.
For the athlete it is mostly about making money. The longer they stay the more they would make, which is probably opposite in the NBA. College coaches would be less likely to play kids as freshman, which in turn would help these athletes grow physically. As it stands, some of these kids are getting physically abused by much stronger players.
By playing Todd Gurley for 3 years at Georgia the school has actually cost him money, while they have reaped millions. This is not the same in other jobs. You have a shelf life in football, especially as a running back. The more you play in college the less you'll play in the NFL. It's probably not the same with any other position in the sport, and quite frankly, it's completely unfair. Every college running back should want to redshirt.
Another great example would be Jadaveon Clowney of the Houston Texans, who played 3 years at South Carolina. During his junior year people were saying Clowney took plays off to avoid getting hurt. Can you blame him? He is going on his second knee surgery in his rookie year, in addition to other physical ailments. Imagine he had given it his all as a junior? How much money would he have stood to lose? And Clowney was the best player in college football his FRESHMAN YEAR. He is/was a freak of nature, an anomaly on the field. Why did he need to stay, and hurt his earnings?
People generally heal in basketball. Football? You know what happens.
Clowney should have taken the year off as a junior, but he should not have had to. Imagine he had to stay in college 4 years? Maybe he breaks down as a senior, and his earnings go completely in the toilet?
Greg Oden is another guy. A physical freak, who clearly broke down. Am I supposed to be sad for Paul Allen and the Trailblazers for drafting this guy? Allen is a billionaire. Oden made Ohio State millions of dollars. What did he see of that? Well, he got paid by Paul Allen. That's how it goes. I also consider basketball and football to be very different, but it still holds.
The NCAA needs to institute a minutes played, or "plays on the field" statistic, that allows kids to declare for a professional league once that threshold is met. This will save the kids physically, or at least get them closer to the pay day they deserve. This is the only fair thing for college football players. A PERCENTAGE OF MINUTES PLAYED should be the only factor in considering eligibility, if there even is one.
Football is vicious, and I still watch it. But it's time to change the model.
I'm someone who thinks colleges should reconsider the athletic scholarship model altogether, but that's a story for another day.