Opting out, buying in, honoring commitments now hot topics at LSU

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Terrace Marshall
Terrace Marshall Jr. scores for a touchdown during the first half of a game between LSU and Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

The debate is substantive.

The pendulum shifts widely to either side of the spectrum when discussing the now trending “opt out” phenomenon which has taken over college football with players doing so before their eligibility or even their seasons are over.

It has happened previously with future NFL stars, including Christian McCaffrey.

This year alone, there have been nearly 30 players who have opted out. Of course, this year has been impacted by the coronavirus epidemic as well.

Seemingly no school has more players opt out than LSU.

First, it was players opting out of bowl games after regular seasons were complete (see Leonard Fournette, Greedy Williams).

Then, players opted out before the season began, including Ja’Marr Chase, along with Kary Vincent and Tyler Shelvin.

Now, we have a player opting out not prior to a bowl game, but in the midst of the regular season.

Terrace Marshall, by all accounts, is a really fine young man.

He overcame a significant injury to become a top notch receiver on a national championship team.

That level of play has continued this season.

His decision to depart LSU early, in the middle of the season, is, at least, a little curious.

Marshall obviously had a rather dramatic change of heart in a short period of time. It was either that, or he did a good job of masking his true feelings shortly before announcing his decision.

The week of the Arkansas game, Marshall gave a motivational speech to teammates, stating, among other things, “we’ve still got a mission ahead of us, and we’ve got to keep playing and keep rolling. We’ve got to keep our eyes focused on the prize. That’s to finish this season out the best way we can.”

Instead, Marshall is finished with a few games to go and his teammates are left to complete the journey without him.

Marshall is now projected to be a mid to late first-round draft pick by most, a very early second round pick at worst but his stock is rising.

The rationale is simple for those who see this as a good move.

Marshall is a rising player, a likely first round draft pick with a great future.

He sees what Chase did prior to the season and Chase is projected to be a top five pick, despite not playing this season. Did not playing hurt the stock of Chase? Obviously not, whether you agreed with his decision or not.

Marshall also sees what Justin Jefferson is doing this season in the NFL and likely sees himself as a similar player, likely to be drafted in a similar position.

Then, Marshall sees the plight that is the 2020 LSU football team.

With a losing record and games with Alabama and Florida coming up in which the Tigers will be overmatched, Marshall likely looks at this is a lost season, a lost cause for LSU.

Marshall also is aware that he is working with two freshmen quarterbacks, going through growing pains through a lack of consistency.

He also understands that the LSU offensive line, against good opposition, is porous and does not give its quarterback enough time to make good decisions and good throws.

One bad throw, one bad step, one tough hit and a high draft pick slated to make big dollars is suddenly in big trouble with his future. Why risk injury?

Naysayers will point to the likes of Alabama and Clemson.

How many star players have opted out at those national power programs?

Then again, if the Crimson Tide and Tigers were not contending for national championships annually, would that be the case.

Is that what this has come to? If you clearly have a chance to win a title, you stay and if you don’t, you leave?

On the other side of the ledger, where is the commitment to team?

Why quit in the middle of a season when you are about to face the two best opponents on the schedule? Why leave your team, struggling to establish an identity and to get to the finish line, in the midst of a struggle? Why quit when the going was getting tougher?

Let’s assess the situation in objective fashion.

Without LSU and college football, Chase would not have gotten his chance to show his immense ability, which I witnessed first-hand doing many Archbishop Rummel football games.

Without LSU and college football, Marshall would not have gotten his chance to show his immense ability, that he had overcome an injury, to become a potential first-round draft choice.

Without Chase and Marshall, LSU may well have not won a national championship.

Of course, LSU provided a free ride for both, via scholarships.

Then, there are those who feel players should be compensated, in some fashion, on the college level.

The financial windfall for those whose images and numbers are sold to the general public is a clear area where compensation, of some sort, seems reasonable. How many people will still be wearing No. 9 jerseys when they can return to Tiger Stadium in huge numbers?

The concept of paying student-athletes beyond that realm is much, much more complicated and problematic.

Isn’t that what a scholarship does? Pay for a free education? Pay for free meals? Pay for free housing?

Aren’t the facilities, the working conditions at LSU as good as it can get?

Again, fine people can have a difference of opinion here.

Everything mentioned here makes a lot of sense, the pros and the cons.

Then, there is the issue of timing.

Of course, the timing of the season has to be considered as well.

The pandemic pushed the season back further, pushing it closer to the NFL combine and offseason. Normally, the regular season would be over by now.

Some were not happy when Chase opted out in late August, about a month before the start of the season.

Critics wondered why he could not have done so earlier, allowing LSU to perhaps sign another receiver late or to plan properly?

Supporters clearly identified with the move, knowing that Chase would be a very high draft pick and knowing that individual and team goals could not possibly reach the same level as they had in 2019 when Chase won the Biletnikoff award as the top receiver in the country and when LSU had a magical 15-0 season, ending with a national championship.

Chase did what he believed was in his best interest after giving a lot to LSU.

In college basketball, the one-and-done rule has been in place for several years now. Some love it, others hate it.

The fact that players can declare for the draft straight out of high school is actually more preferable to one-and-done.

The opportunity is great for young men. It has rendered college basketball to being nothing more than a short term stop for talented players, a halfway house, of sorts. Are they really attempting to derive anything out of the educational opportunity in the classroom in such limited time?

Some programs have handled it as well as can be expected (see Duke, Kentucky, among others).

Baseball has perhaps the best situation.

You can get drafted out of high school and go straight to the professional game.

If you sign to play on the junior college or college level, you must stay three years, something college football has now emulated.

We have not seen baseball players opt out.

Perhaps that is because it does not have the physical punishment that football involves.

Is the timing ever right?

In the eyes of some, it will never be and that is understandable.

Everyone can look at the very same situation and see it quite differently. That includes coaches, parents, players and fans.

The risk of injury is always going to be there. That is the nature of football, a fierce contact sport, and athletics, in general.

I have always been a believer in honoring commitments and strive to do so and to allow others to know I can be depended on. I was taught that by my parents at a young age and adhered to it, to the best of my ability.

Of course, there have been occasions, more than once, where I regretted certain commitments made and wanted a way out. Most often, if not always, I have stayed the course, never quitting or resigning a job or project in mid-stream.

No one knows what all of the circumstances and considerations were for Marshall, outside of Marshall, himself. Perhaps there is a mitigating factor which we are not aware of.

Speaking on All Access on 106.1 FM with me Monday night, former LSU great Jacob Hester admitted that the timing of Marshall’s decision was peculiar.

“You just had a player’s only meeting and he was in front of his team and was a player and guy who wanted to have that meeting,” Hester said. “Then, I also know Terrace Marshall and he is one of the best, if not the best young man I’ve ever had a chance to talk with, interview, mentor. The timing of it is incredibly weird. It’s a little head-scratching.”

Hester knows his playing situation and making decisions about pro football is different than that of Marshall.

“I don’t know what he’s thinking because I’ve never been in his position,” Hester said. “I was the 69th overall pick, he’s going to be way ahead of that, in my opinion. What changed since the game on Saturday is the question I would ask. There’s so many questions about why he decided to opt out. If you gave me one more play and you could tear both ACL’s trying to run down on kickoffs, well, I would do so in the purple and gold.”

Another former Tiger standout, Marlon Favorite, also appeared on the show Monday night and provided further perspective.

“I respect his decision to opt out,” Favorite said. “It did happen at such a weird time. It is a weird season. I do understand him protecting his asset, protecting his body. You have two inexperienced quarterbacks and an offensive line struggling. It’s an option on the table in this crazy corona(virus) year. The kid plays with so much passion. You’re in a situation where your stock is going up. There are two sides to each story.”

Still, Favorite would have chosen a different path, if given the same circumstances.

“Given the situation, I wouldn’t have done it,” Favorite said. “I decided to come back my senior year. I wanted to finish school. That was my motivation but that was also a different climate. These guys are in a different type situation. We don’t fully know if there was any mitigating circumstance. Only he knows.

The move does not smell or feel good on the surface because of the timing.

Opting out before a bowl game is one thing and understandable. Opting out before a season commences is another thing and even more understandable.

Opting out in the middle of a season leaves a lot to question and is not nearly as easy to understand.

Are you concerned about your stock falling by not having good games against Alabama and Florida? Are you concerned more about injury now than you were at College Station a week ago?

Still, there remains respect for Marshall and the decision he made for himself and his future.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Some feel college programs take advantage of student-athletes.

Others feel student-athletes take advantage of college programs.

Isn’t it possible that both of these are somewhat accurate statements?

Here is wishing Marshall nothing but the best moving forward. He is a fine person and player who did what he felt was best for his future. His legacy will always include being a key contributor to a national championship team.

Here is wishing LSU nothing but the best moving forward. Despite current issues to mitigate, it is a national championship program with good people involved and a promising future.

As the bar continues to lower when defining what a commitment is in a changing world, while everyone has to make the best decision for himself or herself, here is wishing that commitments, on all levels, would mean more moving forward.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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