On Saturday, Darron Thomas forwent his final year of eligibility at Oregon to take his chances in the NFL draft. I wasn't expecting the announcement; in fact, I had already gone so far as to start the Darron Thomas Heisman Trophy campaign in last week's edition. My initial reaction was that is was a stupid decision, that DT is a late-round draft choice at best, and that he was killing any chance at an Oregon national title run. My feelings at the time were a mixture of anger, disappointment, and confusion. My current feeling on the subject is that I'm a selfish prick for feeling that way.
Fans of professional teams get to be selfish. Pro athletes get paid millions of dollars, get to change teams to whichever they choose, and with all that freedom comes a little scrutiny. Not so with college athletes. They have a 4-5 year window of time to spend at their alma mater, and it's in those 4-5 years that they become who they will be for the rest of their lives. In addition to working hard to succeed on the field, student-athletes have the same academic responsibility as every other student on campus, and still must find time for family and friends. College football players in particular have become pawns in a giant game of "Which University President, TV Executive, and Head Coach Can Make the Most Money?", so it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone when a player, who is scheduled to graduate from college, want to move on and join the adult world. Let me reiterate: Darron Thomas went to college for four years, and will leave with an undergraduate degree. While he was busy doing that, he found the time to lead Oregon to two consecutive BCS bowls, come within a whisker of a national title, and bring a Rose Bowl title back to Eugene for the first time in almost a century. No big deal.
Was Darron Thomas going to turn himself into a top-round draft pick in 2012? No. Whether it's now or a year from now, he's going to be a project quarterback in the League. Is this year's QB class weaker than next year's? It's looking that way. So Darron Thomas is the guy who gets his degree, and gives himself what he believes to be the best chance at landing a job. But Oregon fans want to see him backpack through Europe for six months, "finding himself", and taking some really sweet-ass pictures in Instanbul.
It's a risk, there's no denying that. It's an aggressive decision, one that could backfire. Kind of like the Oregon offense. But if he's confident in his decision, and feels he can overcome the obstacles in front of him, then Chip Kelly's tutelage, his philosophy towards his players and their future, has paid off. The Oregon football program, to some degree, helped mold Darron Thomas into a man who feels ready to face the world. And, let's not forget, that's kind of what college sports is supposed to be about.
Oregon's offense is losing the most successful quarterback in program history. Without Darron Thomas, a 21-3 deficit against Stanford stays a deficit. Without Darron Thomas, we don't even have a chance in the fourth quarter against Auburn. Without Darron Thomas, the Oregon Ducks do not win the Rose Bowl. And any talk that the Ducks are better off without him is ridiculous. But, as fans, we have to move on. DT's made his decision, and I hope he's given the chance to shine at the next level. Do I wish Darron Thomas was going to be the Ducks quarterback for one more year? Absolutely. But I want that for selfish reasons. And that's not fair to DT. He deserves a better send off than what he's received.