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Thursday, January 9, 2003
Willis should still be talkin' 'bout NFL

By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

Willis McGahee should still turn pro. Maurice Clarett should announce right now that he's applying for the 2004 NFL draft. And Mike Lupica better learn to pick on someone his own size.

I wish these were all my own original ideas. But they're not. I stole the first two from ABC college football analyst Gary Danielson, and the last one is the prevailing sentiment resonating with the folks who saw me outwit Lupica on last Sunday's edition of "The Sports Reporters" when we debated the merits of a college football playoff system.

I chatted with Danielson earlier this week on my radio show. He caught me off guard when he suggested that McGahee should declare for the draft despite the gruesome knee injury he suffered in Miami's loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Willis McGahee
Another year in Miami wouldn't do McGahee much good.
After I thought about it and debated it with an NFL GM and an NFL superagent, Danielson's suggestion made a lot of sense.

If McGahee is going to be out of football for a season rehabbing a major injury, why not do it under the guidance and support of an NFL franchise rather than in your spare time between classes? Why sit out and rehab for free when you could get paid a low, six-figures salary for working out ... plus get the benefit of the best medical advice money can buy?

Here's the theory. Doctors have already told McGahee that he's capable of making a full recovery. McGahee is going to play football again. It's just a matter of when. So even if he does collect on the $2.5 million insurance policy he took out two weeks before the Fiesta Bowl, he'll eventually have to pay back the money. Forget about the insurance money.

So what's the most productive way for McGahee to spend his 2003 season? Should he rehab at Miami and return for his fifth season in 2004 and enter the 2005 draft?

Playing football at Miami in 2004 would be silly. It's Tailback University. Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee ... hell, the Hurricanes had some kid Gore on their scout team this season who is supposed to be better than McGahee. By 2004, McGahee could be third on the depth chart behind a Heisman Trophy candidate and some five-star freshman recruit.

Should he rehab at Miami and apply for the 2004 draft?

No. That would be a waste of time. Yes, his knee would presumably be healthy and his draft stock would be higher than it will be this year. But he wouldn't be a first-round pick. He wouldn't be a second-round pick. He would still be a high-risk pick. There have been amazing medical advances when it comes to repairing knees. But one knee surgery often begats another knee injury (ask Terrell Davis).

I say McGahee has little to lose and much to gain by declaring for the draft now. A wise GM (someone looking to replace Emmitt Smith) would snag McGahee with a late draft pick, sign him to an incentive-laden contract, place him on injured reserve, ship him off to Phoenix to work with strength guru Dr. Charles Poliquin (David Boston's conditioning coach) and pray.

What I just suggested makes more sense than anything Mike Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals have done on Draft Day in the past decade. I guess that's not saying all that much.

Maurice Clarett
If Clarett doesn't go pro, he should call McGahee's insurance agent.
Here's another suggestion: Clarett, Ohio State's freshman running back, might as well hire Johnnie Cochran and start his lawsuit against the NFL now. Given what Clarett and his family witnessed firsthand happening to McGahee, Clarett should go ahead and be the guy who changes the NFL's policy disallowing first and second-year college players from entering the draft.

If Clarett starts the process now, maybe by the end of the 2003 season the path will be clear for him to join the NFL after his sophomore campaign. The NFL's policy won't stand up in court. Hell, the policy probably couldn't withstand one Cochran rap verse.

"If Maurice can run dat thang, then with Urlacher and Lewis he must bang."

Which leads me to my final point, the verbal duel I won over Lupica on "The Sports Reporters." I've been waiting four years for my opportunity to out-talk Lupica on the show. He takes such delight in hammering anyone who dares to disagree with him on a topic. I love Lupica, but he is the definition of the New York Know-It-All, and if you don't stand up to him he'll bully you on the show.

Well, finally on Sunday I got the best of Lupica during an exchange about whether college football needs a playoff system. Lupica, just like most of my peers, believes Division I football needs a playoff. I vehemently disagree, and McGahee's knee injury is my latest piece of evidence that we don't need to do anything to lengthen the college football season.

"Should we extend the season another game or two so McGahee can entertain you, make more money for ABC and risk another knee injury?" I asked Lupica.

Lupica responded by suggesting teams shorten their regular-season schedule to 10 games. There's a better chance of me and Bill Conlin winning over the Bachelorette than the season getting cut. When you reduce your debate opponent to making hopeless suggestions, you know you've won.

You see, the desire for a Division I playoff has nothing to do with what's best for the kids who are playing the game. That's why I don't understand people's passion about the issue. As journalists, even sports journalists, we should save our real passion for issues and injustices that negatively impact the powerless.

Why should we, sports journalists, lead the charge for TV networks to make more money off McGahee, Clarett and Ball State quarterback Andy Roesch?

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at ballstate0@aol.com.