It's a business. That’s the unfortunate truth. The NCAA’s decisions to prevent college football players to profit off of their likeness and to prevent them from declaring for the draft until their red-shirt sophomore season have been called into serious question since their conception. Their latest challenger, LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
Several players have challenged the NCAA on the topic of player likeness. So what makes Fournette different? Through 6 games, he has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, former Georgia running back Herschel Walker, and is regarded by experts “The best college back since Barry Sanders”.
Once banned from his 12 year old football league due to talent, Leonard Fournette was the number one high school recruit by any and every measure. Sought after nationally by almost every Power-5 school, Fournette eventually signed his letter of intent to in-state program LSU. After deciding not to redshirt, his freshman year saw him run for 1,034 total yards and 10 touchdowns and a 5.5 average YPC.
A monster true freshman season by most standards, but last year turned out to be just the beginning. In a preseason dominated with Trevone Boykin and Ezekiel Elliot heisman talk, “Freak Show” Leonard Fournette has emerged as a near lock to win college football’s most presitigious award. In 37 less carries and 7 less games, Fournette has blurred his way to 1,202 yards and 14 touchdowns. I’ll say that again. 6 games. 1,202 yards. 14 touchdowns.
After a stellar 5.5 YPC average his freshman year, Leonard has been averaging an inhuman 8 yards per carry, and 210 scrimmage yards per game, both good for first in the nation. Yes, we are watching history in the making. All of these numbers are made even more impressive by the fact that this is only his true sophomore season.
But that’s the problem. Fournette’s a true sophomore. If the NFL draft were today, Freak Show is a lock for the top 3 picks and likely the number one. This is where the dilemma comes in. Since Fournette isn’t a red-shirt sophomore (true junior), he cannot declare after this season for the draft. And since players can’t profit off of their likeness, Fournette’s talents will go unpaid for another year, leaving him another whole year in which he could get injured and lose all he has worked for, lose the opportunity to finance himself and his family for the rest of their lives, lose the opportunity to repay his parents for the opportunities they’ve given him. So the question becomes: Does Fournette skip his junior season?
Of course, there are several things to consider. Is there something to be said for loyalty? Leonard staying at Louisiana State to help them win? Perhaps. Perhaps he wants to stay because he loves the program, loves his brothers on the team, loves the fans who have supported him through his journey. Perhaps.
But football is a business, after all. Is staying “loyal” worth risking his future? To point to a recent example, former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was a consensus top 10 pick after his junior season. The top tier defensive back stayed for his senior season, and tore his ACL at the very end of the season. Once a surefire first round pick, Ekpre-Olomu dropped to the 7th round and was later cut by the Browns.
One thing is for sure, though, this is Fournette’s decision. Fournette’s, not OURS. Yes, it is truly amazing to watch him break records. Yes, it is awesome to see him run over people. Yes, we WANT to see Fournette run. But how unbelievably selfish is that? People say Fournette “should” play his junior year. He “should” play. Why? For our entertainment? Think about that. We are asking this kid to bury his head in a pile of men, run into walls of people, risk his future both financially and physically, for what? We want to see him out there. We want to see Fournette play as well as he has. But that is selfish of us. A real fan of Fournette or any player shouldn’t want the best for just the player, but the person as well.
I don’t ask that you believe me, I don’t ask that you agree with me, hell, I don’t even ask you to think like me. But promise me one thing. Don’t lose sight of what Leonard’s doing THIS season. Like I said before, we’re seeing history, guys. Enjoy watching this kid run.