Debate is raging whether Jadeveon Clowney should have played against Kentucky. (Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI)
Jadeveon Clowney's no-show in last weekend's matchup with Kentucky raised a lot of questions surrounding South Carolina's star defensive end. Clowney's decision to sit out the game -- a surprising decision made just before kickoff, according to a frustrated Steve Spurrier -- brought plenty of unwanted attention to the potential No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft. Many wondered if Clowney was more focused on maintaining his health for a high draft position than helping his current college team.
If that were the case, does Clowney deserve the criticism? Should a player have the right to dictate his playing time in a college season that is, in truth, little more than a formality before cashing in on NFL millions? For college stars who are certain to play on Sundays, how much effort do they owe their current teams?
Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman break down the situation in this week's Read-Option.
Zac Ellis: So we all know Jadeveon Clowney didn't play in last weekend's game against Kentucky. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was noticeably frustrated when asked about Clowney's decision not to play, and whether or not Clowney was or is seriously injured, it's an interesting situation. Many took Clowney's absence as a sign that the star is mailing in his junior season with eyes already set on the 2014 NFL draft, and that alone has sparked controversy about what a player in Clowney's position should do in the situation. What was your reaction to the whole ordeal?
Martin Rickman: It's funny, I'm so numb to the talk about Clowney I kind of tuned it all out. Look, I don't know if Clowney is seriously injured or not. The only person who truly knows is him. And that's all who matters in this instance. If he doesn't think he can go, he tells the coaching staff and the coaching staff deals with it accordingly. Guys miss games for a variety of reasons, and it's clear something's been up with Clowney since the preseason. He's not 100-percent effective, in large part because he's not 100-percent healthy. He should probably get right before he tries to go out there. But that's his call, and that's the way it should be.
ZE: I don't disagree with that, but it seems to me that if Clowney was truly injured, he still could have handled it better. Just this week Rick Neuheisel talked about the issue on Sirius XM radio, and Neuheisel said there's always a constant communication between trainers and head coaches. Why was this situation different? Clowney himself said on Wednesday that there it was simply a communication snafu, and that's largely why Spurrier appeared so peeved in that press conference. It appeared that Clowney had bypassed regular authority to decide that he didn't want to play. I do agree that his well-being should ultimately be his decision, but I'm just curious why Clowney decided to handle it the way he did.
MR: That's a good question. And I'm sure there's something more to it, as Spurrier backed off his earlier comments and came to bat for his player over and over this week. I can't speak to the communication breakdown with South Carolina, and who knows if Clowney made the decision on his own, if he's keeping himself safe, if someone's in his ear, or this was just a matter of player not being in step with the training and coaching staff. I do know I don't need to be reminded of it every 10 minutes on the radio or on TV, and I'm already tired of hearing about "whether this hurts Clowney's draft stock." South Carolina is trying to win football games. The draft isn't until April.
ZE: True, it's all a major distraction, but what intrigues me is that I can see both sides to this issue. I truly understand a player like Clowney wanting to protect himself from injury when a blown-out knee could cost him millions of dollars come April. But the other side of the coin is, why is Clowney on campus in the first place? Is he there to play college football and help further the narrative of amateurism, or is his goal to best position himself for NFL stardom? I believe the truth is somewhere in between, but I definitely believe he has folks chirping in his ear and telling him to avoid unnecessary risks. And a game against a team like Kentucky would likely be an unnecessary risk, at least compared to the rest of the Gamecocks' schedule.
MR: Certainly the national perception of Clowney has shifted since the beginning of the season. But also, wasn't some of that national perception aided in part by the same people now asking him to "man up?" ESPN is conducting this train, playing the Michigan hit ad nauseam, now there's #ClowneyTake this week. My guess is Jadeveon Clowney today is the same Jadeveon Clowney he was in the offseason. He'll still be a top 10 selection in the NFL draft, and he's still got elite talent. This changes none of that. Clearly, the coaching staff needs to get this settled down, and it's really up to them to keep this sort of stuff in house and put out a consistent message. If Spurrier and Clowney were on the same page coming into the Kentucky game, this is a non-story.
ZE: The media can be an appropriate scapegoat for cultivating a storyline, but I'm not sure I buy that reasoning this time around. Spurrier was very tongue-in-cheek in his postgame presser on Saturday about the issue, and his statement and demeanor did nothing but fuel the speculation that followed. Spurrier's been around the block; he knows what to say and what not to say. This is on Spurrier, Clowney and the team, not the media. And I think Spurrier would agree: he's already backtracked on what he said and is now standing up for Clowney. If they wanted this to be a non-issue, Spurrier shouldn't have said what he did on Saturday. If it was simply an injury situation -- and even if it wasn't, the best bet was probably to play it off as such -- then Spurrier should have said Clowney was hurt, and that was that. Then, if this same "media" storm began brewing, that'd be on the media. But now we have a situation where people are debating the merits of a star player watching out for his NFL future versus giving full effort for his team during college. Whether or not that's what Clowney is doing, it certainly raises questions. Does a player have the right to protect himself to this degree, or should he play if he's available?
MR: I think it comes down to comfort level. A guy like Clowney knows his draft stock (an arbitrary term anyway) is a mixture of on-field results and potential. If he never plays, there's no benchmark of comparison. By and large, since he wasn't able to come out for the draft last year, unfortunately no matter what he did this year was going to be a disappointment unless he averaged 2.5 sacks a game or something. He doesn't seem like the type of kid to just sit out to protect himself and his NFL future, but even if he was, that's up to him and the coaches. They can punish him if they think he's healthy and is just going through the motions. The thing is, the Gamecocks are a better team with Clowney than without, and they know that. So naturally they want him on the field. I typically lean on the side of letting guys look out for their best interests since the college football machine doesn't care who you are. You're disposable. So yeah, he has a right to protect himself.
I tend to agree. Given the lopsided nature of revenue in college sports, as far as what student-athletes receive compared to what they bring in, it's hard to tell any player to jeopardize a potentially fruitful financial future. It's a difficult situation for both sides, but the player has the right to look out for himself.