Certainly Herschel Walker should leave Georgia and go to the pros right now. Staying in school another two seasons will not make him a better running back and will not earn him more money. To keep on running for room and board is to shorten his working life two full seasons. We're talking maybe $1 million for those lost years.
Here for the Sugar Bowl, in which Georgia might win its second straight national championship by beating Pitt, Walker has raised again the possibility of going to the Canadian Football League. He turned down a reported $2 million offer from the Montreal Alouettes last spring, choosing to go home to Wrightsville, Ga., and work in a filling station.
Walker for the first time also said he might challenge the constitutionality of the National Football League's rule prohibiting its teams from drafting or signing any player with college eligibility remaining.
"If I go to Canada, it would be for the excitement," Walker said. "Last year I was a young kid and I really didn't know what was going on, because that was my first year in college and I think I was lucky. I came back and repeated it again. And I haven't heard too many people say it was luck."
The more Walker talked, the more it seemed apparent he believes the thrill is gone from college football.
He wanted to be the first player ever to win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore, so he could be the first to win it three times. But he lost out to Marcus Allen, as he lost to George Rogers the year before. Now he says, "When you've been in the running twice and lost twice, it really doesn't matter to you anymore. When everybody says you still should have won it, I think I won the Heisman in my own mind. I don't need to win it to prove anything."
If you can't get excited about winning the Heisman as a junior, maybe winning it twice, what is left in college football? After you have won one national championship and come close again, what is left? After being all-America twice, what else?
That's all there is.
So someone asked Walker what he will think of when this season ends, and he said, "I'll think about running track. Maybe challenging the rule, maybe not. Maybe going to Canada, maybe not. Maybe going back home and work in the filling station."
When it was pointed out that Canada now has the same rule regarding undergraduates that the NFL does--drawn up in May, probably under NFL pressure, after the flirtation with Walker--Walker quickly said the Canadian rule doesn't apply to him.
"Not me," he said. "They were on me before they made the rule. So they still have the rights to me."
Checked that out, eh?
"Well, I'm a fairly intelligent guy," Walker said, smiling brightly.
Gord Walker, public relations director of the CFL, says Walker is wrong.
"He is off-bounds to the CFL," Walker said. "He's hoping the rule doesn't apply to him, or thinking it doesn't, but it does."
Walker prefaced all his answers by saying he hadn't really thought about it. Then his answers showed he had thought about it a lot. He has thought so clearly about getting hurt that he has taken out a Lloyd's of London insurance policy, for a reported $1 million, against his possible pro earnings.
And thinking of injury has moved Walker to consider the powerful influence on his life that belongs to the NFL.
"Getting hurt--that's one reason I say the NFL's law is unconstitutional," he said. "Because if you get hurt, who's going to help you then? Everyone just says, 'Another one bites the dust.' No one is going to care what happens to you then. Now they got a rule where if you get hurt, you just go back home."
Walker should test the NFL rule. He would win. He is a player of such rare ability that by the mere threat of a challenge, he could force the NFL to make an accommodation and take him into the league.
The NFL itself knows its rule could not stand a legal test, it is such a clear violation of the basic constitutional freedom to work when and where a man chooses. Former players Joe Kapp of Minnesota and Jim (Yazoo) Smith of the Redskins have won lawsuits declaring illegal the draft system that gives the player no bidding market for his talents. Yet because the NFL Players Association agrees to the draft concept, it survives even when found illegal.
O.J. Simpson didn't want to go to Buffalo, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted to go to New York, not Milwaukee. Their value on an open market is speculation, but certainly competitive bidding would have set that value more definitively than did a one-team, take-it-or-leave-it draft.
And how could Walker change this without a revolution?
Walker could say, "Commissioner Rozelle, I know the draft is important to your league. I also know it is constitutionally indefensible. If I filed suit and obtained an injunction against enforcement of your undergraduate rule and the draft, I could play for the team of my choice during the trial. This would effectively end the draft and make it an open market for every college player coming out. You don't want that, do you?"
Rozelle might take a deep breath and say, "What would you suggest, Mr. Walker?"
"I suggest you inform the 28 partners that I would like to play in the NFL next season. I would play in Atlanta, Los Angeles or Washington. Let those fellows decide which team will pay me $1 million a year, guaranteed for 10 years, with a 20 percent raise every year I play."
"Wouldn't this open the doors for drafting more undergraduates?"
"Certainly. But it keeps intact your draft system. You have your choice, Mr. Rozelle. Either you draft undergraduates or you create an open market where every college player is a free agent."
Drawing on a cigarette, Rozelle might then say to his secretary, "Set up a conference call. Get me Atlanta, L.A. and Washington." He would blow a smoke ring and say, "Welcome aboard, Mr. Walker."