No one has ever denied that professional football is a business. But when such business decisions trickle down to the collegiate ranks, the fine line between working hard and playing hard has not only been crossed, it’s been trampled.
The NCAA’s decision to not allow University of Southern California wide receiver Mike Williams to play for the Trojans this season is more of a travesty than Maurice Clarett’s futile attempts to enter the NFL early.
For those of you who have been “lost in translation” for the past few months, Williams applied for the NFL draft after two years of college- the NFL requires applicants to be out of high school for at least three years – following a court ruling that allowed players to declare whenever they wanted.
Should it be the fault of Williams a rule was instituted and then rescinded? Almost anyone with his obvious talent and the promise of millions of dollars would have made the same decision as Williams-a gourmet meal beats cafeteria food any day of the week.
Unlike Clarett, Williams did not fight the system; he simply followed the rules of the system.
Williams complied with every request the NCAA levied on him to restore his eligibility; he fired his agent, returned all the money he received via his agent and enrolled in classes over the summer. But he was still denied reinstatement.
What makes the NCAA’s ruling such a travesty is the fact that Williams was allowed to practice with his team and was given the decision of his fate hours before Southern Cal. was scheduled to leave for Baltimore to face Virginia Tech.
If the NCAA had any decency left, it would have given Williams a decision over the summer. This would have allowed him to not be a distraction to his head coach, Pete Carroll. Now the phenom is reduced to working out with USC strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle preparing for the 2005 NFL draft.
If there is one positive from Williams being sidelined, he will in all likelihood be the first wide receiver chosen in next year’s draft. Projected to be a mid-to-late first round draft pick in April’s draft, Williams can expect to be a top 10 choice at the very worst.
To the novice football fan, a few places in the draft pecking order isn’t that much. But to players, such a difference is many millions of dollars and a few more endorsement opportunities.
While USC is still expected to challenge for the national championship again this season, the hill they will have to climb just got that much steeper. In addition to losing Williams, the Trojans lost second receiver Keary Colbert, as the Minnesota Vikings drafted him in the second round.
All the summertime courtroom drama begs one question. Can the 2004 season top the excitement of the off-season?
Contact Will Brown at Willbitsgood48@aol.com.