by Sean Begin
The firestorm surrounding the NCAA and the level of control they have over the players’ ability to profit from their name has been under siege from not only a large number of journalists but from the general public as well.
And on Saturday, yet another player will become the focal point for those who view the NCAA system as the financial churn-house it really is.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley entered 2014015 as a preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Through Georgia’s Oct. 4 game against Vanderbilt, Gurley’s more than 154 yards per game on the ground and eight touchdowns had him leading the Heisman pack.
But then on Oct. 9 two days before Georgia’s game against Missouri, Gurley was outed by a vindictive autograph collector who had paid Gurley for his signature. Georgia promptly suspended Gurley indefinitely, a suspension which was extended to four games in late October by the NCAA after Gurley had already sat out two.
On top of the suspension, Gurley was required to pay back a portion of the money he had received (about $4,000) to a charity of his choice and serve 40 hours of community service.
That’s 40 hours on top of the 50-60 he’s putting in on the football practice field and the uncounted hours he may be spending in the classroom.
While the punishment itself is wildly disproportionate to Gurley’s supposed “crime,” there wasn’t much he could do to change it. The NCAA has always operated as judge, jury and executioner for the “student-athletes” that shoulder the money-making burden for those in power.
On Saturday, Gurley returned to the field against Auburn. With just over minutes to play and Georgia up by 20, Gurley was injured on a six-yard rush. Sunday reports surfaced he was done for the year with an ACL tear.
Modern medicine has turned an ACL tear from a career ending injury to merely a season ending one. Odds are good Gurley will get healthy and play again. As a junior he might just declare for the draft and take his chances in the pros.
But his injury comes less than two weeks after Marcus Lattimore announced his retirement from the NFL before ever playing a game. Lattimore was a shot in the dark when he was drafted by the 49ers in 2013, coming off ACL and MCL tears to both his left knee in 2011 and his right knee in 2012.
Between his signing bonus, salary and an insurance policy, Lattimore made just under $3 million in his football career. And while that’s still a lot of money, it’s definitely not proper compensation for the horrific injuries he sustained playing for free for the University of South Carolina.
Gurley’s injury doesn’t mean he’ll follow Lattimore’s path. Lattimore was a unique situation, a path that, in the end, had too many obstacles for Lattimore to get past. Sometimes the damage is too much.
Gurley’s injury is just another small spotlight on the meat grinder that has become college football and another shining example of why players deserved to get paid.