Gresham learned on Tuesday that his senior season was over before it started. Surgeons who operated on Gresham's right knee that day said it would need five months to heal. So instead of leaning on crutches on the sidelines for some NFL team this season-opening week and weekend, with a few million in signing-bonus dollars in the bank and another million or so dollars in paychecks rolling in, Gresham will lean on crutches on the Sooners' sidelines for nothing, except that "free" college education student-athletes are afforded.
In other words, Gresham really could not have significantly improved his immediate future -- his draft status, i.e. earning ability -- by coming back to school this year. Now, he may even have lost income by staying in school, if you believe the long-held adage in economics that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.
Gresham wasn't alone last season in hanging around for a final year of college when it appeared he'd maximized his worth as an amateur. One-time Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow of Florida and the prodigious slinger Colt McCoy of Texas also opted to stay for their senior seasons. They were joined by USC safety Taylor Mays, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, Mississippi defensive end Greg Hardy, and one of Gresham's teammates, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a redshirt junior. All were considered first-round picks, and Mays and McCoy, like Gresham, were called the top prospects at their positions.
One underclassman who was among 41 who decided to bolt college early after last season for the kind of salary his college coach was making was Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, who won last season's Outland Trophy that recognizes the country's best lineman. He'd been suspended at the end of last season under suspicions that he had improper dealings with an agent. That could have rendered him ineligible for a senior campaign. Others may have departed early because of rumors that the NFL was considering a rookie wage scale similar to what the NBA instituted and would keep rookie salaries down. But NFL boss Roger Goodell said a rookie wage scale would not be instituted until at least 2011.
But here's the kicker for Smith: he broke his left foot last week and, like Gresham, will be sidelined.
Smith won't be able to play for a few weeks. He won't be lost for the season. But in the meantime he'll at least have $21 million guaranteed dollars to soothe him plus the paychecks from a multimillion-dollar four-year contract. The Bengals gave him that much after making him the sixth pick in the draft last April.
For Gresham's loyalty to OU, or love for college or whatever was his reason for not taking the money this year and running with it, he will have little more than a sideline pass to show for it. If for some horrific reason, unforeseen by his doctors at the moment, Gresham can't return to play and reap some of the millions he was headed to collect, he can cash in an NCAA insurance policy if he took one out. Oklahoma officials I queried Wednesday didn't know whether Gresham had availed himself of the near 20-year-old program the NCAA runs to insure top draft picks against injury in college. The premiums as recently as 2005 ran upwards of $20,000 for a year and paid out as much as $3 million for a football player.
I'm not advocating dropping out of school. Gresham and other athletes like him who choose to stay a final year rather than bite the lure of so much money have chosen a noble path. Guys can always finish up their degree work, and more and more are doing so every year. A mind truly is a terrible thing to waste. And for a few who decide to stay on it can work in their favor.
I recall wide receiver Roy Williams decided to hold off the NFL Draft after his junior season despite being one of the top receivers in the nation, if not the No. 1. Williams explained that he doubted his readiness for the pros and wanted to stay at Texas his senior year to sharpen his route running and refine his blocking technique.
Williams didn't intend in his explanation to underscore that major sports at big schools like Texas are nothing less than minor leagues for the pros, but he did. So when the pros have decided by draft projection that a college athlete like Gresham has mastered all he can at the college level, he should go.
It just doesn't make economic sense for most top-notch athletes like Gresham to stay in school, because at the end of the day, making a living is the reason in our capitalist society we are in college at all.
The idea that we go to college to expand our intellect is mostly based in romanticism. Sure we want to be exposed to different ideas that may change the way we think about the world. Of course we hope to gain some knowledge that may lead us to find a cure to some affliction or a newer, faster and better way of doing something critical.
But truth is that most of us go to college to hone our skills -- those we already possess, or those we seek to gain -- in order to realize the most comfortable way for us to make a living. That usually means realizing the line of work that remunerates us the most.
Gresham and other would-be first-round draft picks like him have already achieved that. Hanging around to help Bob Stoops and his Sooners win a national championship was a refreshing gesture in our all-about-me world, but it's bankrupt.