There are 127 schools in the NCAA FBS and, through five games, the South Carolina Gamecocks are 75th in rushing defense, giving up an average of 170 yards and more than two rushing touchdowns per game on the ground. If you like advanced metrics, their defensive rushing S&P+ is 95th in the NCAA. Things are likely to progress from bad to worse for the Cocks this weekend, as when they journey to Baton Rogue to face the LSU Tigers and the nation's leading rusher, Leonard Fournette.
Fournette leads the country with 864 rushing yards and 11 TDs. He's posted three consecutive games with more than 225 yards. He's posterized the Auburn defense. He's the leading contender for the Heisman. And he's only a sophomore.
It's no surprise that Fournette is dominating college football. He was Louisiana's Mr. Football in 2013 and the nation's top ranked high school recruit in 2014. ESPN dubbed him "the next Adrian Peterson" after televising one of his high school games. He's 230 lbs and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. His combination of power and speed is a concussion waiting to happen for opposing defenders. Major college coaches recruiting him in New Orleans admitted that he could play for the Saints straight out of high school. The guy is a legit phenom in the mold of Lebron James, which begs the question: why is Fournette not in the NFL?
The current NFL age/eligibility restriction prevents anyone from entering the NFL draft prior to completing their junior year of college (or three NFL seasons removed from high school graduation). The rule is a blatant anti-trust violation and has nothing to do with the player's best interests. It is the result of the collusion of three powerful cartels; the NCAA, the NFL, and the NFLPA, working to preserve their control over the powerless. Obviously, everyone involved in the NCAA is getting rich on the backs of these "students," and the NCAA's interest is in maintaining their pool of free labor. The NFL's interest is ensuring a minor league system which relieves them from any financial responsibility for player health. Finally, the NFLPA has agreed to collectively bargain the issue (and thus protect it from anti-trust lawsuits) so they can restrict competition and protect the paychecks of the aging veterans who would otherwise lose their jobs to younger talent. It's a rigged system.
It's much harder to ignore the blatant exploitation of college football players today. The scale of the television money dwarfs anything imaginable a generation ago. The combined CBS and ESPN television deal with the SEC pays the conference an estimated $400 million per year for broadcast rights. If that money were split evenly between the 85 scholarship players per team, each player in the SEC would earn over $336,000 per year.
In 2014-2015, the average cost of tuition at in-state public universities was a little more than $9,000 a year. Therefore, the average SEC football player generates the equivalent dollar value of 37 years of college tuition every season. And that's just from the television money. It doesn't include the money collected from selling 90,000 tickets per game or team merchandise or food or parking. How many employees at the bars, restaurants, and hotels across the country rely on football weekends to make ends meet? The economic impact of college football is enormous and yet the players are the only ones prohibited from benefiting from their labor.
What does Leonard Fournette have left to prove to the NFL? Running backs have a limited number of touches over their short professional careers. Why should Fournette put his body and future earnings at risk by playing another snap as an unpaid intern at LSU? Loyalty? Coaches, athletic directors, and college presidents rarely exhibit loyalty to a school when more lucrative offers come along. It's part of the business. Why shouldn't the players also put business first?
South Carolina fans understand. We still remember what happened to Marcus Lattimore. We held our breathe for Jadeveon Clowney during his cautious junior year. The lack of consistent effort didn't even hurt Clowney's draft stock. He was still the No.1 overall NFL draft pick.
All of this is to say, Leonard Fournette should announce his retirement from college football. He should retire, sign a shoe deal, and concentrate on business classes while he waits to be drafted No. 1 overall in 2017. Preferably, he should make the announcement before this weekend. It's the only hope the Gamecocks have of beating LSU.