As it seems now, Jadeveon Clowney’s college football career is over. Yes, the South Carolina defensive end may have actually been in too much pain to play in Saturday’s game against Kentucky, but few actually believe that, including Steve Spurrier, or at least that’s how I read his post-game comments on Clowney’s strange absence. 

Right now, many are debating whether Clowney has done the right thing — to effectively remove himself from play in an effort to stay healthy for a big-money career in the pros. Granted, it’s a real dick move to his coach and his teammates and all of the Gamecock faithful, but it’s a dog-eat-dog world and the defensive end must look out for himself first and foremost, something that his teammate Marcus Lattimore did not do — and he paid the price for it. (Although Lattimore still got paid a couple of million bucks when he was drafted, it was certainly less than what he would’ve gotten before his college career-ending injury. And just to be fair, Clemson’s one-time QB Kyle Parker effectively “quit” his final year after Clemson’s 2010 loss to the Cam Newton-led Auburn Tigers ended Clemson’s title hopes; after all, Parker had a far-more lucrative career ahead of him as pro baseball player, although it must be said that despite hopes, Parker has yet to play in the majors.) 

But none of this is neither here nor there. This isn’t about right and wrong. This is about the future of college football, and right now, Clowney has changed the game in a way that few before him have. And he won’t be the last. Other sure-fire draft picks will do the same. And the big-spenders in the NFL aren’t going to care if a college team and its fanbase are upset. They want the best regardless of their sins.

Now where will all of this lead, I don’t know. The NFL might sign an agreement with the NCAA refusing to draft apparent quitters like Clowney. Some colleges may actually decide not to court future superstars like Clowney, who they fear will hang up their cleats to protect their pro prospects; the bigger programs might do this, but few will be able to resist the temptation of getting their hands on a potential big-time player. And it’s even possible that the end game here is finally a decision by the NCAA to admit that college football players are professional athletes and to begin paying them accordingly.

But make no mistake, more and more prospective top draft picks will do exactly what it appears Jadeveon Clowney has done. And it’ll be the smartest thing they’ve ever done in their college careers.

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