Athletes Condemned for Leaving School Early, Being Individuals

Quarterback Mark Sanchez left the University of Southern California the same way he came in: Great expectations, highly touted with talent and loaded with both a mind and arm capable of wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. While he might be an elite breed of quarterback, Sanchez is like all other high-profile college athletes who came before him – as well as those who will come after – who skip out on school to enter the ranks of America’s professional sports leagues.

Following in the steps of Florida’s Percy Harvin and Georgia’s Matthew Stafford, Sanchez, a fourth-year junior, is the latest underclassman to enter the upcoming NFL draft in April. After a year and a half of taking the calls from head coach Pete Carroll on the sidelines, Sanchez made his own call when he decided to forego his senior season to fulfill his dream of someday being an NFL quarterback.

Sanchez held a press conference last Thursday announcing his decision to the public, in which his head coach most likely embarrassed himself more so than his quarterback. The biggest day of Sanchez’s life – a happy day – quickly became more about Pete Carroll and the USC program than the future of a potentially great quarterback. The coach displayed his disapproval by stating his desire for Sanchez to return for his final season, claiming the added year would greatly benefit the quarterback.

Even in these tough economic times, college student-athletes continue to be persuaded by the dollar, as much as it is a personal goal to take their game to the next level. The American dollar, however, is not recession-proof unlike education. Betting one’s future on the fluctuating value of currency is essentially a gamble with one’s life. Some of those who have left school early – Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade – have fared pretty well and even those who never attended college – Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant – have done even better. Consider them lucky. They not only made it in professional sports, but they became superstars. All were fortunate and smart enough to build up their bank accounts and secure a bright future for life after sports.

Then there are those less fortunate. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett spent one year as a Buckeye before attempting to become eligible for the NFL. When the league denied his request, Clarett turned to a life of crime with neither an academic diploma nor a professional contract in hand. Former USC star-wide receiver Mike Williams can relate.

As the two previous athletes can attest, deciding to leave school early is a personal decision and risk. Everyone has their reasons. Some make an early exit to avoid getting injured in their final year of college and their stock drastically plummets as a result. Others do it because they need the money to provide for their families, as Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden did. Critics, as Carroll knows, view leaving school early as an abomination, but the real horror behind this growing trend is condemning athletes for making decisions that are purely their own.

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Football Players Reach Out in an Unconventional Way

Few cultural trends in sports last long. Some, like the boastful and notorious “jersey pop” fade away when players and the fans who emulate them finally realize that these antics are no longer cool. Others, such as end-zone celebrations, are simply outlawed by professional sports leagues and constitute a multi-thousand dollar fine plus a 15-yard penalty. Consider Terrell Owens and his habit of carrying Sharpie markers in his socks a thing of the past. The same can be said for Joe Horne pulling a cell phone out of the padding of the goal post and calling collect.

There once was a time, about a decade ago, when sports offered fans an added entertainment bonus for attending games. Sure, grown men and their sons are still able to find themselves in awe when watching the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders perform the halftime show at Texas Stadium. But what they can’t find are those marvels of choreography simply known as the touchdown dance. By the looks of some, it seems they are constructed and performed as precisely as running a post pattern or blitzing a quarterback. The Dirty Bird made popular by the Atlanta Falcons during their 1998 Super Bowl run? The St. Louis Rams’ Bob and Weave? Britney Spears should be jealous.

Today, those fads are but a distant memory. No longer in existence, except in our memories. Perhaps athletes collectively have progressed. Maybe some have even emotionally matured. Either way, the change is apparent at all levels of competition. The aspect of entertainment has now been reduced to the game itself. Performance, intended for the delight of audiences, has transformed into the personal, intended for the players who perform.

Black eye smear used by football players to block the sun’s rays has been around for nearly 30 years. But innovation paired with the technology of the 21st century has converted what was once a messy cream into a neat and convenient adhesive strip. The fact that players wear them in today’s game is old news, but now they are being adorned with personal messages that serve as inspiration. Unlike other trends that have graced the sports world in years past, the custom black eye strips are comparable to playoff beards and backwards hats in that they have stuck and are here to stay.

During the 2005 BCS FedEx Orange Bowl, Matt Leinart and Lendale White led USC to a national championship, but as much talk was made about up and coming star Reggie Bush’s eye strips as the Trojans’ victory. Under one eye, Bush had written “619” and beneath the other, “SE.” After analysts and commentators were left puzzled, Bush revealed that the messages were symbolic of his hometown of Spring Valley, California – a city whose area code is 619 and is located in the southeast portion of San Diego County.

Bush paved the way for what is now the most popular method of giving shout outs to loved ones and instilling confidence in one’s self. The nation got a glimpse of eye strips’ popularity during this year’s national title game between Florida and Oklahoma. Gators quarterback Tim Tebow’s strips featured “John” and “3:16” under his eyes, a rare deviation from his trademark biblical verse of “Phil” coupled with “4:13” which he wore during every regular-season game in 2008.

The nationwide audience also saw the emotional purpose that the strips have, as injured Gator Louis Murphy was helped off the field by trainers after injuring his leg. Although 101 words could have been used to describe the agonizing expression on his face, only those legible were “I (heart) U” and “Mom,” written underneath his eyes. Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez wrote the name of a teenage boy with bone marrow cancer under his eyes, while teammate Rey Maualuga gave some love to his father. Athletes have found an appropriate way to bring a team game to a more personal level. The meaning is in the message.

TO BATTLE, OR NOT TO BATTLE

by Peter Pupello

A rather anti-climactic series on the field in years past, the continuing war of words off the field fell nowhere short of Ohio State and Michigan.

The disagreement between both schools’ coaches, players and fans has less to do with wins or losses and more to do with continuing or ending the series.

“One side gets it, but as far as the other side goes, I don’t know what the problem is,” UCF head coach George O’Leary told the Tampa Tribune regarding why USF won’t continue the rivalry

Here’s some food for thought: As USF continues to build a reputation and climb the college football ranks, the Bulls, who play in a competitive BCS conference, have moved on to bigger and better things.

The Bulls want to star in one of five BCS bowl games in January, and they have to play tougher teams to get there. Not to mention, the risk of losing to UCF is far too great for the Bulls: a loss to the Knights would cause a plummet in the polls.

Saturday’s thriller was too close for comfort. The Bull’s sealed their perfect record against the Knights and ended any UCF hope of breaking it (for now), but for USF fans, it was fun while it lasted.