The absolutely ridiculous hit South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney put on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's Outback Bowl was merely the splashiest example of Clowney's dominance in 2012 and the opening day of 2013.
Clowney led the SEC in sacks with 13 despite knee and foot injuries in the second half of the Gamecocks' season, and he also set school marks for tackles for loss (21.5) and sacks in a single game (4.5 against Clemson). At 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, and moving all over the South Carolina defensive line, he already appears to have everything it takes to make an Aldon Smith-style impact in the NFL. Unfortunately for NFL teams, they'll have to wait until the 2014 draft to avail themselves of Clowney's services.
That's because of the rule requiring every collegiate player to wait three years out of high school before they are eligible for the NFL. Known as the "Maurice Clarett Rule" after the former Ohio State running back who unsuccessfully challenged the rule in 2003, it's an edict that some believe flies in the face of labor and antitrust principles.
"From the NFL's perspective, this was never really about Maurice Clarett," NFL attorney Gregg Levy said after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling putting the league's prohibition on hold. "It was about a rule that has served the NFL well, served fans well and served players well for many years."
But does it serve Clowney well? The second-year player, who has amassed 21 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in those two campaigns, is a teammate of running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a gruesome knee injury during the 2012 season, and will undoubtedly see his professional prospects greatly affected as a result. Clowney seems OK with coming back to South Carolina in 2013 and competing for the Heisman Trophy, but the risk is always there, and other players who have suffered serious injuries (Willis McGahee, DaQuan Bowers, and the list goes on and on) would most likely attest that the reward is minimal at best.
"I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year," Clowney said in mid-December. "That's my next thing, New York. Next season, I am going to come out and try to work harder than I did this season and try to get there."
Head coach Steve Spurrier's take? "He's gotten a lot of attention and he's handled it well, handled it very well," the Ol' Ballcoach said around the same time. "We all know he's a three-year player, which is fine."
Fine for Spurrier, no doubt. We just hope it's fine for Clowney.
Nearly a decade ago, journalist opinion on the denial of Clarett's inability to profit from his athletic potential was anything but mixed. Yes, Clarett made a lot of stupid decisions that got him booted out of school, and yes, he was a washout at the NFL level, but the outcome of one case should not inform the law.
"This is just an outdated rule of convenience for the [NFL and NCAA]," Yahoo's Dan Wetzel wrote on Sept. 23, 2003. "The NFL doesn't want the hassle associated with teenagers, with having to draft on potential ... and college football wants its returning stars, its consistent powerhouse programs, and its calm off-seasons for coaches who, unlike their basketball counterparts, don't have to fret."
Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune was more succinct and just as correct the next day, when he called the NFL's rule "arbitrary, discriminatory, disingenuous and probably indefensible."
It seems that the NCAA and NFL are the only two forces around who can successfully block Clowney. Both organizations should consider themselves fortunate that Clowney seems OK with that. He'd be a far better, and more appealing, subject than Clarett if he wanted to challenge the rule that impacts his ability to profit from his potential.