By Will Tilley
Marcus Lattimore arrived to Columbia in 2010 as a highly touted running back with the promise of a successful and long football career.
An outstanding freshman season had him listed as one of the best college running backs in the nation by many in the media. His stock couldn't have been any higher.
Just four short years later, Lattimore is returning to Columbia to finish his degree before he played a single down in the NFL. He couldn't overcome several severe knee injuries he suffered in his final two years as Gamecock.
If Lattimore been allowed to choose to leave school after his freshman year, he may have entered the draft as a healthy and young player, possibly picked in the first round.
NCAA rules, however, require football student athletes to wait three years after graduating high school before entering the draft, so Lattimore's only option was to stay in school, risking injury and possibly hurting his draft stock.
The rule is designed to allow student-athletes to make progress on their degree and give them time to mature.
Though the rule stresses the importance of education, some see it as unfair to force these athletes to stay and make no money for their talents while the NCAA pulls in billions.
One of those opposed to rule is Doctor Richard Southall, who is an assistant professor for sports and entertainment at USC and a research focus on legal issues of NCAA college sports.
“A running back who plays in front of 85,000 fans paying X number of dollars, most economists would say he has a certain market value,” Southall says. “But because of the way the collegiate model is set up, college athletes have no access to any part of that commercial venture.”
With player safety at the forefront of some sports conversations these days, there has been debate in the last couple of years of whether these high-profile NCAA athletes should sit out their final year of college in order to save themselves and their careers for the pros.
Not all athletes feel the NCAA rule puts their career at risk. Former Gamecock wide receiver Dion LeCorn played at USC from 2007 to 2010. He suffered a lacerated kidney and broken ankle during his time in school.
He says he thinks the NCAA still has the players' best interest at heart.
“I look at it as a way they're trying to look out for the kids. Trying to promote them to graduate, and also looking out for their safety,” LeCorn said.
LeCorn graduated with a degree in Sociology in 2011 after his college career finished. He now works for a company in Columbia.
The rule will also allow Lattimore to quickly graduate from USC when he reenrolls into school for the spring 2015 semester. However, he will do so with a lot less money than he once envisioned following a career that was cut down way too short.