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January 16, 2015

Cardale Jones was right, but for all the wrong reasons

Ohio State QB's decision had little to do with diploma

Score one for the NCAA.

After what seems like an endless run of public relation nightmares - the Ed O’Bannon suit and a vote by Northwestern football players to unionize; the botched investigation into Miami, which exposed wrongdoings by the NCAA’s own investigators; the pending settlement with Penn State over the harsh sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal; even the academic fraud scandal at UNC highlighted the fact that learning is not necessarily a priority, despite what they’d have you believe - finally, there was some good news.

On Thursday afternoon, when Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones announced that he will return to Columbus for at least one more year, all those who fervently defend the current state of amateur athletics let out a collective sigh. 

Jones addressed a large crowd at his old high school in Cleveland, and his version of “The Decision” must have thrilled Mark Emmert and Co.

Not because of his decision - they could care less about that - but because of the reasons he gave for making that decision.

Specifically, this one:

“One of the most important things for me to do is graduate,” Jones said.

He’s right. Graduating is important. But is that the real reason? It’s the one that sounds good. It’s the one that casts him in the best light.  But it’s not the reason to forgo potentially millions of dollars and risk your short and longterm health and financial well-being for no monetary compensation.

Two years ago, quite famously, Jones tweeted his feelings about school, football, and where both stood on his priority list:


While it must have factored into his decision at some point, I find it hard to believe that he suddenly puts so much stock in the “student” part of student-athlete. I’m not saying that graduating isn’t important to him now. I just don’t think it’s that important. Jones could return to college at any point and earn a degree, but he only has so many years left to make money playing football.

A few seconds later, Jones offered another reason. This one was just as sound as the other, but certainly didn't have the same noble intentions. 

"The NFL, after three games, was really out of the question for me.”

That's a polite way of saying, "Did you really think I was ready for the NFL after three collegiate starts?"

Ultimately, Jones made the right decision. He's not ready for the NFL. And that's the reason he decided to return to school. It just doesn't have the same ring to it as "graduate."

Which brings us back to the NCAA and their victory in this. 

They get the feel good story. They get to hold up Cardale Jones as an example of how, even after accomplishing the sport's greatest feat, student-athletes value their education more than the compensation received for playing professionally.

And despite pending governance changes and even more lawsuits - some involving whether or not a cap can be placed on pay for student-athletes - revenue continues to rise for the NCAA.

Unknowingly, whether for his own PR purposes or because it's actually how he feels, Jones just became the poster-boy for why college athletes don't need to be paid. There's no way to project where he would have gone in the draft, no way to prove this was a "football" decision, and no way to know if he's ready for Sundays.

The strange part is, Jones likely won't be playing quarterback on Saturday's this fall either. He's not even the best on his team. He may have just passed on the only* chance he gets to play in the NFL, and he did for the sake of his education. 

*At the very least, his best chance. It's hard to see his stock improving, and there's always the risk of injury.

In doing so, Jones gave the NCAA ammunition in not only the court of public opinion, but also in literal court.