Or maybe Clowney has checked out on the whole college football thing altogether with a massive signing bonus inching closer.
The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, and it’s easy to see why. This scenario was predictable, and the prospects of unimaginable wealth hanging overhead create a difficult situation for those trying to go about business as usual.
And the term “business” has never felt more appropriate.
When college athletes are put into a scenario of simply hoping to avoid catastrophic injury, trying to get through January, you’re left with a volatile situation for the player, coaches and team. It's unfair to everyone involved.
Well, except for those poised to make money off No. 7 while they can and the fans looking for one final glimpse of him in the college ranks.
Regardless of the strangeness surrounding the South Carolina defensive end, his strained relationship with his head coach and his status with the program now and going forward, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. This situation—and more specifically, the 2013 season—felt peculiar and perhaps even doomed from the get-go.
Now, however, Clowney’s status with the team is approaching a breaking point of sorts.
In a season that has been marred with a stomach virus, a bone spur in his foot that will require surgery and now a ribcage injury, Spurrier’s comments after his team’s Clowney-less victory against Kentucky were interesting to say the least.
On Sunday, Spurrier clarified these comments, according to The State’s Josh Kendall. It’s not the first time the Ol’ Ball Coach has backed off his initial comments this year, and he seemed to do so again:
It was just we didn’t know he wasn’t playing until right before the game. That is always a little frustrating. Usually the trainer or doctor comes and tells you this guy is out, and that did not happen last night. But on the other side if a player is in pain and can’t play, I don’t want him to play. None of us do.
Even in this delivery, Spurrier capped it off with the following when asked about Clowney’s commitment to the team: “You will have to ask him that. I can’t speak for Jadeveon.”
There appears to be more to the story here. At the very least, there is a severe lack of communication between Clowney and his head coach. There’s also a lack of stat-sheet production on Clowney’s part—albeit facing constant double- and triple-teams while battling ailments and providing an impact that doesn’t show up in any box score.
Still, there’s no question that the season has been an utter disappointment for a player who was gathering serious Heisman buzz not long ago. Now, the talk of such campaigns feels distant.
Part of this is our fault. It was unreasonable to believe that Clowney could somehow match the absurd expectations we bestowed upon him after his viral decapitation of Michigan running back Vincent Smith on New Year’s Day.
You've watched this 489 times; what's once more?
That play, in a lot of ways, could prove to be a turning point in his career, but not in the way many imagined. In fact, this moment could eventually do more harm than good.
A magnificent player capable of doing magnificent things had a moment that was appreciated on an unprecedented level. With the YouTube hits, ESPYs and appreciation came an anticipation of what’s next—an assumption that this moment could be matched or even topped.
Should Jadeveon Clowney have been allowed to go pro following his sophomore season?
The hoopla, however, was only that. There was no money, no signing bonus, no sponsorship deals, just speculation and a $5 million injury insurance policy for his final college football season as a junior.
Players must be three years removed from high school, which meant Clowney was eligible for the 2014 NFL draft. Sitting out this season was never really an option—as much as many wanted to discuss it—and playing (and hoping to avoid an injury) seemed like the only viable option for the likely No. 1 overall selection.
It’s an unfair deal, and Clowney was struck smack-dab in a purgatory of sorts: unable to capitalize on his fame at the college ranks when the time was right. Unable to take his NFL-ready body to the pros.
With so much money at stake, it’s no wonder that the situation is reaching a point that it shouldn't have. The hype was extreme, and the scenario was stacked against him from the start. What good—other than our own selfish enjoyment and those counting the quarters brought in—comes from forcing a player to stick around one more year than he should?
It’s this common-sense question that is being talked about at a time where discussion of paying players is reaching a boiling point. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently tackled this directly, saying maybe it’s time that players are allowed to bypass college altogether, courtesy of ESPN.com:
Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks. If they’re not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish. Train at IMG, get agents to invest in your body, get agents to invest in your likeness, and establish it on your own. But don’t come here and say, "We want to be paid $25,000 or $50,000." Go to the D-League and get it, go to the NBA and get it, go to the NFL and get it. Don’t ask us what we’ve been doing.
Perhaps this is where we’re headed. Or perhaps the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit could reshape collegiate athletics in an instant. Either way, change is likely coming. Maybe not this year or next year, but sometime soon.
Of course, simply blaming the system in place for Clowney’s season—or lack thereof—is unfair. This entire situation has been botched from a variety of levels, starting with the player himself. Whether he’s injured or not, his hazy communication with coaches could have been avoided. He could have done more and perhaps will going forward.
The coaches themselves, starting with Spurrier, also could have kept much of this in-house instead of playing out an incomplete scenario in the press. This has done nothing but create more fires, even if Spurrier needed to get it off his chest.
This isn’t just a Clowney problem. While his effort, love for the game and 2013 season are being picked apart (and perhaps somewhat deservedly so), it’s worth wondering if he ever should have been in this position in the first place.