I knew what I wanted to ultimately say with this post, but had no idea how I would get there until I started writing. The following is what I came up with, and jeebus is it long. Sorry…but not really.
My immediate reaction to hearing that Andrew Luck had announced his intentions to return to Stanford to complete his degree in Architectural Engineering was probably similar to many of your reactions: “What!? He’s passing up millions of dollars as the almost-guaranteed 1st pick in the NFL Draft for one more year of college? Insane.”
But, I think it was Spencer096 that said it best when he stated something to the effect of, “Tell me again why I’m supposed to care what he makes.” Then, he cursed.
Why do we care what Andrew Luck does with the next year of his life? While I’m typing this, I’m listening to Colin Cowherd basically excoriate Luck for his decision. I’ve heard people call Luck immature and naive for wanting one more year of college in the past 24 hours and break down his decision to the point that they’re speculating on Luck’s parents financial status. However, not only do none of these people have any true insight on why he decided this way, but they’re unnecessarily inserting themselves into the story by pretending they’re affected one way or another by the decision. The bottom line is each of these people have some sort of platform, so they consider themselves obligated to offer they’re opinion.
I have this platform. I’m going to offer my opinion now. First, some background though.
The intelligent among us like to draw historical comparisons to support our arguments, so I’ll make a few using Peyton Manning, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Matt Leinart.
Peyton Manning – on the heels of an SEC Championship as a junior, he was almost guaranteed to be the 1st pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, but chose to return to Tennessee for his senior year instead. The result was being drafted #1 in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Indianappolis Colts after another successful season at Tennessee. One can argue that even though Manning was picked 1st in ’98, he effectively cost himself money by not being a pro for one more year. This is the argument that you could add all of Manning’s career earnings and he could have had one more year as a pro had he left college as a junior. However, that argument makes a lot of assumptions. First, he would have been drafted by either the Jets or the Rams (Jets had the #1 pick but traded it to the Rams who took Orlando Pace). Second, the difference in rookie contracts would need to be considered. Pace’s rookie contract was a seven-year $29.4 million contract that included a $6.3 million signing bonus while Manning’s the following year was $48 million over six years with an immediate $11.6 million signing bonus. Third, would Manning have been as successful with either the Jets or Rams as he has been with the Colts? That’s an impossible question to answer. My unexpert opinion on Manning’s decision is that it was a good one. He received his degree in Communications from UT and further cemented his hero status at Tennessee. Oh, and he seems to be doing quite well financially.
Sam Bradford – on the heels of a Hesiman Trophy and a national championship runner-up as a redshirt sophomore, he was almost guaranteed to be one of the top picks in the 2009 NFL Draft, but he chose to return to Oklahoma for another year. The result was a season-ending injury that threatened his draft status, but he was still taken #1 in the 2010 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Had Bradford left for the 2009 NFL Draft, he would have been taken by the Lions, who toolk Matt Stafford out of Georgia #1 and paid him $41.7 million guaranteed in a six-year $72 million deal. Instead, Bradford came out the next year and received a six-year deal worth $76 million, with a maximum value of $86 million ($50 million guaranteed). It’s WAAAAAY too early to judge Stafford’s success with the Lions against Bradford’s success with the Rams. My amateur opinion on Bradford’s decision to stay is that it was good so far in the short-term, but he also got a little bit lucky since he was still picked #1 after a season-ending arm injury.
Tim Tebow – on the heels of a national championship as a junior (Heisman Trophy as a sophomore), he was almost guaranteed to be the 1st pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, but chose to return to Florida for his senior season instead. After another great season, he dropped as far as #15 in the 2010 NFL Draft. Financially, Tebow’s decision was awful as he received a five-year, $33 million contract with $8.7 million guaranteed from the Broncos. It’s arguable whether the Lions would have picked him over Stafford at #1, but it’s not arguable that Tebow’s decision to stay cost him millions of dollars in the short-term. Successfully, he became even more endeared as one of college football’s greatest players and, like Manning at UT, he further cemented his legacy as probably the most beloved player ever at Florida. My opinion is that his decision was terrible financially, but great for him personally since he seems to genuinely care less about money and more about intangibles.
Matt Leinart – on the heels of a national championship and Heisman Trophy as a junior, he was basically guaranteed to be the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but decided to stay one more year at Southern Cal. The result was another successful season as the national championship runner-up. While he quarterbacked another dominant team and had another statistically successful season, he fell to the Arizona Cardinals at #10 in the 2005 NFL Draft. Having paid attention to Leinart’s career thus far, I can opine that his decision to stay at Southern Cal was not a good one. While he did complete his degree in Underwater Basketweaving while Foxtrotting, he also knocked up his ex-girlfriend and publicly partied hard. His immaturity was cited and he dropped in the draft. The 2005 #1 pick was QB Alex Smith ($49.5 million, six-year contract with $24 million of it guaranteed) while Leinart got a six-year contract from the Cardinals worth up to $50.8 million, including $14 million guaranteed in 2006. My analysis is that Leinart cost himself a lot of money and didn’t do himself any personal favors by staying one more year at Southern Cal. He may say something different altogether…but that’s impossible to know.
There are so many unknowns with Andrew Luck, but we do know he likely would have been the #1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. We don’t know how much that contract will be worth due to the uncertainty of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, a possible upcoming lockout, and the certainty of a rookie wage scale that will likely result in significantly smaller salaries and guaranteed monies for NFL rookies. Either way, it would have been a lot of money.
But money isn’t the only driving force behind a career decision. Yes, it’s an important consideration and it may end up being a deal-breaker one way or another, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. If any of you have EVER made a big decision in your lives that determined multiple outcomes like where you would live as a result, what kind of lifestyle you would have as a result, and how you would benefit financially and/or professionally as a result, you know that there are many, many layers that pile up and intersect with each other. There’s rarely an easy choice that guarantees a positive outcome. Usually, a pros and cons list is necessary and the final decision involves some measure of an eyes tightly shut leap of faith.
Luck wants to complete his degree in Architectural Design. On the surface, that sounds like a weak excuse to stay. “He could go to the NFL and complete the degree in his off time at night or online or in the offseason.” Not necessarily. If Luck is academically a senior in Architectural Design, he’s limited to the classes he can take by what classes are offered which semester and when they are offered. Take a look at the Architectural Design program at Stanford. It’s an engineering major at a GREAT academic university. Now, try to follow the sequence of courses for the degree. It’s a degree that he tailors to fit a discipline within Architectural Design that he prefers: architecture, construction, engineering, and/or structures. The depth electives he chooses determine his specialized discipline. If Stanford is anything like the University of Tennessee, the University of Memphis, or the University of Florida in their course offerings in upper level courses, the depth electives he will choose are only offered one semester per year at one specific time…i.e. the student fits his schedule to the offered classes and there may only be one shot per year to take a class. At Tennessee, I missed out on a wood design course because I chose to take masonry design instead and wood design wasn’t offered for another year. At Memphis, I missed out on a pre-stressed and post-tensioned concrete design course because not enough other students registered for the class and they weren’t going to be offering it for another year. Luckily for me, I didn’t need those courses to complete my degree because there were other options available. At Florida, the courses are lock-step so there is no option to miss any class in any semester…I would have to drop out and wait an entire year to join the next group and pick back up where I left off.
The point is that if Luck were to leave Stanford now, there’s a strong chance he would be unable to complete his degree until he finished his NFL career. Those upper level courses are not usually offered during the summer semester (NFL offseason) nor are the generally offered online (yet).
Luck doesn’t want to do that. He wants to complete his Architectural Design degree, play one more year with (hopefully for him) head coach Jim Harbaugh, beat up on the Pac 10, possibly win a Hesiman, possibly win a national championship, and take his chances with the 2012 NFL Draft.
Finally, my opinion is that my opinion doesn’t matter, and neither does yours.