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Cardale Jones' Decision Is Everything That's Right with College Football

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 16, 2015

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones announces he will not enter the NFL draft at a news conference in Cleveland, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. Jones, 3-0 as a college starter including a win in the national championship game, says he will return to the Buckeyes for his final two years of eligibility. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Mark Duncan/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With all due respect to the reporters in attendance, the most important question of Cardale Jones' Thursday press conference announcing his return to Ohio State for his junior season came when a teacher at Jones' alma mater, Ginn Academy, inquired about his academic goals.

"I'm really proud of you for following the path of education. Without an education, you can't be," the teacher told Jones during his nationally televised press conference. "What are your educational goals? What will you be studying?"

"After life after football, I want to be a financial planner," revealed Jones, who the Ohio State student directory currently lists as an African-American and African Studies major. "After I'm done with football, I still have my whole life to live. That's where I think my education will come in handy."

To most of the sports world, the moment was a footnote, a teacher planted in a sea of sportswriters to maintain the positive PR aspect of Jones' announcement. But it was the most relevant question asked on Thursday of the Buckeyes quarterback, who made the rare decision to put his education before the immediate reward of millions of dollars.

Because, truth be told, if Jones was purely making a football decision, he probably would have been best suited entering the draft. According to research performed by his current coach, Urban Meyer, and high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., Jones would have likely been drafted in the second round had he entered this spring's draft, with the potential to move into the late-first round.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Even being selected with a high pick in the third round would have netted Jones close to $1 million in guaranteed salary. As a kid from inner-city Cleveland who became the father of a newborn daughter in November, nobody would have blamed Jones for making a decision that would have stabilized his financial future.

"It's everybody's dream and goal when they play football or any collegiate sport to make it to the next level," Jones said. "But at my point in my career, I feel like it's best for me to go back to school, and one of the most important things for me to do is to graduate. When I make that decision to play in the NFL, I want to be done with school."

Jones is on track to graduate from Ohio State this winter, although that's not to say that he couldn't benefit from another season in Columbus on the field as well.

Given that he's only started three games in his college career, it's unlikely that Jones would have been capable of doing more than sneaking into the back end of the draft's first round. But with a big season, the 6'5", 250-pounder could become the first quarterback selected in what's shaping up to be a weak 2016 quarterback class, which would likely land him in the first five overall draft picks.

Of course there's potential risk in Jones' return, especially with third-team All-American J.T. Barrett returning from a fractured ankle and two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller's status still up in the air.

Jones insists that Meyer hasn't guaranteed him—or any other quarterback—Ohio State's starting role, although as the only one of the three who will be healthy for spring football, Jones appears to have a leg up.

Nevertheless, by returning to school with at least one other established quarterback on the Buckeyes' roster, Jones risks losing his starting status, which could potentially lead to his draft stock plummeting. The Cleveland native's small sample size left questions but also fewer games to pick apart, and ultimately could have benefited him, had he entered this spring's draft.

"I thought it all through," Jones insisted. "The chances [of being a first-round draft pick] are slim. Football has always been a stepping stone for my education."

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

That Jones is even in a position to have his decision to return to school questioned is a victory in and of itself, considering where he stood just two months ago. Barrett's backup until the fourth quarter of Ohio State's regular season finale against Michigan, Jones was eyeing a likely transfer after the season, per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.

But more than revealing himself to be an NFL-quality quarterback, Jones has matured as a man, as evidenced by Thursday's announcement.

That famous tweet he sent more than two years ago about not coming to Columbus to "play school?" That's old news, replaced by the image of a man turning down millions when it may have made the most sense, in order to obtain his college degree as quickly as possible.

In a sport where so much is wrong, Jones has always uniquely been himself, admitting that he "can't say" what he wishes he could to people doubting his decision. "Being a first-round draft pick means nothing to me without my education," he said.

And while that may only be a public relations line to some, Jones' actions prove that he must really mean it.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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