If Sam Bradford had thrown his hat into the NFL Draft last April, there's a pretty good chance that he'd be starting an NFL game this weekend. He might even be starting for the Lions, with $41.7 million in guaranteed money to cushion any future falls he might take in life. Instead, he's hoping that he only misses two games for the University of Oklahoma after getting crushed during the Sooners' opening loss to BYU on Saturday night and hoping that NFL teams don't think less of a quarterback with an injured shoulder.
We'll break for a snort of laughter here.
Whenever a player of Bradford's stature returns to college, there is a cheer from those that believe there's some kind of higher calling to college sports that he did it for the love of the game. There's also a cheer from the NCAA and athletic departments that they'll get to cash in on having a superstar player who plays for them for free while putting his future earning potential at risk to help them win a vote of writers and coaches.
After seeing what happened to Bradford, how much love of the game do you think the best players in this year's junior class there's going to be come April? No need to formulate a particularly elaborate equation, the answer is very, very little. So little, in fact, that BYU may be facing probation for its role in slowing college football's gravy train.
Dez Bryant, Eric Berry and Bradford's teammate Gerald McCoy all saw everything they needed to see when Bradford was helped off the field with trainers. The narration in each of their heads couldn't have been anything other than "Please God let me stay healthy this year so that I can go pro and get my money come April."
Not that they even needed Bradford to provide the motivation. Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Greshem, projected to be a first round pick before returning to Norman, is probably going to miss the season after knee surgery that will turn him from an instant millionaire to a guy who will have to prove himself all over again during drills. And Greshem hurt his knee during practice, which is going to lead to a lot of enraged college coaches wondering why their star players aren't going the extra mile during workouts this season.
Throw in the fact that there's labor unrest in the NFL which will almost certainly lead to a rookie salary cap come 2011 and you've got a perfect storm that will leave the 2010 senior class looking like something out of the scab games played during the NFL players strike in 1987.
But it is Bradford, Heisman Trophy winner that he is, that will loom largest when players are making up their mind about choosing between partying with co-eds and partying with co-eds while earning a hefty salary. If it could happen to Bradford, it could happen to anyone. So why in the world would you take the risk?