Last Monday South Carolina junior receiver Ace Sanders indicated he would be coming back to school for his senior year. Last night he indicated he is going to turn pro. Yesterday, January 15, was the last day underclassmen could declare for the NFL draft.
There is now a second deadline looming. January 18th is the last day a declared underclassman can remove his name from the NFL draft and return to school. To do that the player cannot sign with an agent and can't do anything else to lose his eligibility, i.e., accept gifts, benefits, etc.
I wouldn't count on Ace changing his mind in the next three days, but he has changed it once, so it could happen. All reports have indicated that this was a close decision for Sanders which probably explains the change of heart.
Many will no doubt be disappointed that Sanders indicated he was returning and now appears to be going pro. That disappointment is understandable, but fans should also understand how important a decision this can be for a player's life. Few of us have careers with such a short window to make a lifetime of earnings. The decision of when to start that career is incredibly important.
Coach Spurrier has publicly stated on numerous occassions that he advises players to turn pro if they are projected to be first round picks. Ace Sanders is not projected to be a first round pick. He is projected to be a second or third round pick. That would certainly be a reason not to declare, but you must consider the flip side as well. Will Ace's situation be improved if he returns for another year? Maybe, maybe not. If not, he faces the uncertainty of injury, and next year's class could have more players like him, pushing his draft stock down. It's a guess at best.
The difficult part for fans of any college team is that a decision like this causes conflict. While we are fans of a school, over the last three years many of us have become Ace Sanders fans. That was easy while he was on the team and being a fan of one didn't conflict with the other. Now those two interests diverge. It would be in the 2013 Gamecocks' best interest to have Ace on the field. It may be in Ace's best interest to be in the NFL. Fans are forced to choose.
But it doesn't have to be that way. When players like Ace Sanders leave it dimishes the team in the coming season, but it builds the program in the long run. He was a four star player coming our of high school; he came to South Carolina, and now he is ready to go pro. That indicates good player development, and it will attract more players like him in the future. So as Ace Sanders fans, we can wish Ace well, and hope he continues to represent the school well, only in another venue. As South Carolina fans, we also wish him well and hope his success at Carolina attracts two or three more players of his caliber and character to follow him.