In an ideal world, Jadeveon Clowney is currently preparing to be one of the top picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. In any world, he is physically ready for the next level, and the number of positive things that could happen to him during his junior season at South Carolina are outweighed by the consequences of the potential negative things.
The problem, though, is that we don't live in an ideal world. Far from it, actually. A player must be three years removed from his high school graduation to be eligible for the NFL Draft. No exceptions. It's an arbitrary restriction of the free marketplace, but I understand the NFL's reasoning. NFL football is a brutal sport played by large men capable of moving at incredible speeds, and 99.9 percent of college underclassmen are not physically equipped to compete at that level.
Clowney is not among them. He is a 6'6, 256-pound dynamo that runs like a deer and hits like a truck. He just turned 20 on Valentine's Day, and did things during the 2012 season that 19-year-olds simply should not be able to do. I know you've already seen it, but look at this hit:
So with millions in future NFL earnings just a year away, some, like the Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorensen, have suggested that it would be in Clowney's best interests to consider sitting out the 2013 college season. Note that Clowney himself did not suggest this.
Sorensen's point is that since Clowney is good enough to be in the NFL in 2013, he's being cheated by having to remain with the Gamecocks. And to a point, I agree. With so much proverbial money on the proverbial table, a serious injury while playing for free in college could be disastrous, and it's no surprise that Clowney is looking for a multi-million dollar insurance policy to safeguard himself from just such an occurrence. But if he can get the insurance policy, there's no point in sitting out. He'll have a measure of protection against a problem that isn't guaranteed to occur, and even if he does get injured, SI's Stewart Mandel astutely points out that it may not even hurt Clowney's draft stock.
If Clowney did indeed skip a year of football, sitting out may do more to damage his draft stock than an injury would. No matter how talented he is, skills get rusty if they haven't been used in live action for a year, and I can already see NFL teams downgrading him for being a "me-first diva." He probably wouldn't slip far, but dropping a few spots in the draft would cost him millions.
Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver thinks Clowney should be in the NFL as well, but he thinks that Clowney should sue the NFL to force his way into the draft a year early, which is an even dumber idea than sitting out a year. Note that Clowney himself has not threatened a lawsuit.
Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams tried this very same tactic to get into the 2004 NFL Draft, and while they were successful initially, the NFL prevailed on appeal and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The Court of Appeals judge that ruled in favor of the NFL? That was Sonia Sotomayor, who is now a Supreme Court Justice.
If Clowney wanted to pursue legal action against the NFL to let him into the draft, he would have had to file suit weeks, if not months ago. Even when a case moves at an expedited pace, the American legal system moves slowly, and the chance of a suit receiving a final judgment in his favor before the draft is almost non-existent.
I will spare you the legal minutiae about why Clowney has a bad case for challenging the NFL in court, so here's the short version: Precedent is against him, and bringing a case would actively cost him money while likely sidelining him for his junior season anyway. He could attempt to challenge the NFL to allow him into the supplemental draft this summer, but at that point, why even bother?
Let's put aside all the silly ideas about what Jadeveon Clowney should do. He has never once said that he doesn't want to play his junior season with the South Carolina Gamecocks. All of these scenarios are based on what other people think Clowney should do, not what he wants to do. I'm just as cynical about the value of amateurism in college sports as the next person, but who are we to tell him he shouldn't play in college if that's what he wants? The 2013 Gamecocks have an outside shot at a national title run, and Clowney has positioned himself as a preseason Heisman candidate. There may not be easily assignable monetary values for that, but there doesn't have to be.
This may come off as crazy, but maybe Clowney likes being in college. Maybe he likes playing football with his friends, and doesn't view his entire life as a pre-NFL training program. Attempting to minimize every single risk is rarely fulfilling, and will ultimately be a futile pursuit.
Jadeveon Clowney should go ahead and live his life whichever damn way he pleases, but skipping a season for the pleasure of sportswriters is not a realistic option.