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Radoff: Quarterbacks should rethink college choices

Football is finally upon us; I was beginning to think I wouldn’t make it. Sure, the NBA Playoffs are as scintillating as they will ever be, but I’ll take the lonely island of football in May to get me through until next fall.

Nothing else rivals the sheer complexity and pageantry of the NFL Draft — it’s so exhilarating that it has inspired its own Kevin Costner movie. In fact, the draft is bigger than Kevin Costner, which I guess means that it can be pretty good sometimes, punctuated by periods of forced drama and extensive monotony while occasionally eliciting outright confusion. It can have all the drama and poignancy of “Dances with Wolves,” truncated by long periods of overproduction and forced excitement, so…“Waterworld.” Yet, despite all the exhilaration, tedium and Kevin Costner references, the real show often takes place off-screen.

Take our very own Shayne Skov, or (sorry) Michigan State’s Max Bullough. I can give you very few reasons why the two went undrafted, except to say that Skov’s injury continues to (perplexingly) make teams nervous and that Bullough’s suspension and speed deterred teams. And yet, every year by the third pre-season game, someone like them will have emerged to be the next Vontaze Burfict and then will be shocked when it happens. Burfict, by the way, was projected to be a first-to-second-rounder at the start of his last season.

The point being, the draft is like a roulette wheel and an Ouija board rolled into one; those responsible for analyzing prospects shape perceptions about the players as much as the players leave impressions on scouts. That’s how a player can end the season as a projected top-10 pick, get his wingspan measured and lose $8 million in the process. With this kind of uncertainty, when top players get spit out and unknowns come shooting out of nowhere, I can see the allure of the draft for young players thinking about leaving early. Your number might just get called if you can run just one good 40.

NFL scouts are scouring for talent, sometimes taking the shine right off the best prospects. It used to be that you could spend four years at Ohio State, Notre Dame or USC and know for sure (and often hours in advance) that your name would be called. Why else would Brady Quinn bring his family to New York? But those were the days when you could pay for college without refinancing both kidneys — it just doesn’t work like that anymore.

Remember when Matt Cassel was drafted despite never having started a game at USC? Do you really think we’ll ever see that again? The quarterbacks have it right: You won’t get drafted unless you have at least two years of starting experience. They know that if they pop off the page, even if it’s at a Division II or III school, they have a better shot at getting drafted then if they ride the pine at Alabama. (First rule of the draft: Never take a running back in the top five Second rule: Never take a quarterback from Alabama.) The myth of the big-name team has officially been busted, and it happened a decade ago.

I get it; It’s tough to say no when Nick Saban himself appears to offer you a scholarship to the most talented roster in college football. But someone needs to tell prospective college quarterbacks that they are losing money — and not just a little, lest we forget Eric Fisher of Central Michigan’s $22 million payday. I don’t care if I am the best-looking prospect since Jadeveon Clowney, I am staying the heck away from Steve Sarkisian and Saban, who might just sign you so someone else can’t, just because — screw it — they can.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about it all is the purity behind the desire to play for the best. The athletes sign on not just because they want to be known as the best; instead, they do it because of how badly they want to win, and winning means a national title.

I watched the national championship game and I watched Jameis Winston cement himself as a future top-five pick. But I also watched the draft, and the first quarterback to step across that stage, Blake Bortles, would have been shocked, no matter what he’ll tell you, to be playing for the title. Look at the top five selected quarterbacks’ schools: UCF, Texas A&M, Louisville, Fresno State and Eastern Illinois. That’s one “powerhouse” school in two rounds. If you want to play at the next level, go showcase your talent, because if you are on an excellent team, every great play a teammate makes is a great play you don’t get to make. Scouts notice that, just like how they will downplay your talent based on the overall talent of the team.

As the NCAA slowly atrophies itself out of existence, I think we are going to see players start to follow the example of quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t an airstrip within 50 miles of your school — all you need is a guy in the stands with a phone and you can become an NFL quarterback. Come September, you will agonizingly see high school football on ESPN. If you can play high school football in Des Moines and get national attention, why does anyone think they still need to go to Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge just to put scouts on notice? The answer is quite simple: They don’t, and doing so is a poor financial decision.

The NFL has a rookie symposium in which financial responsibility is one of the most prominent and important topics covered. Almost no one is advising kids coming out of high school save their parents and peers, most of whom are vastly under-qualified to do so. Furthermore, college coaches have an incentive for taking a very talented player and sitting him or even cutting him, just so another team cannot have him.

Here, player unionization might come in to help. If players can seek financial gains, there will be an impetus for agents to start counseling athletes right out of high school — an agent always knows where the money is. I understand that the morality behind this movement is questionable at best, but the result cannot be debated: The parity of teams will increase, talented athletes will get to showcase their skills and more young athletes will get a chance to play at the next level as well as maybe even have a greater chance of graduating.

Nicholas Radoff has already started to plot out his path for becoming the next mid-major quarterback to receive a seven-figure payday out of the NFL Draft. Send him some tips at nradoff ‘at’ stanford.edu.