Ron Higgins: Ja’Marr Chase’s business decision appears as simple as black and white and green

PHOTO BY Jonathan Mailhes

LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s announcement of his decision to skip the 2020 season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft has created a social media hailstorm reflective of the volatile signs of the times.

Most of the support for Chase comes from a younger, racially mixed demographic which realizes a successful college football program requires recruiting a stockpile of NFL-caliber athletes more interested perfecting their craft than earning a degree.

They understand him sitting out is a wise business move, especially in a season that could stop and start and stop and start depending on the severity of weekly coronavirus outbreaks.

There were also the sadly predictable haters who wrote such things about Chase’s decision. Here are samples of their uneducated prose:

“To walk out 3 weeks before the college season starts sends what type of message to an NFL owner?”

“That’s like me deciding I’ve done an OK job, so I leave the project without giving it my best effort to the very end. That does not cut in the business world.”

“Damn these pampered players. If they opt out early, they need to pay the scholarship back.”

“I thought the intent of college was to get a degree, football should come second!”

“He won’t have played for over a year when the draft happens. Will teams really trust the skill of someone they haven’t seen for 16 months?”

“These kids come to LSU – free tuition, free training, free PT, free tutoring, free food, free strength training, free healthcare, free mentoring, free psychiatrists, free everything. I don’t think they should be able to opt out before four years, I think the whole NCAA needs to change.”

According to their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures, do you know what all these posts have in common?

They were made by mostly elderly “get off my lawn” white people who can’t understand that a 20-year-old black football player projected to sign a contract worth at least $30 million along with almost a $20 million signing bonus (if Chase’s top five draft projection pick holds up) feels like he has nothing to prove to NFL scouts in a COVID-19 10-game abbreviated season that may or may not be completed.

Walking out three weeks before the season sends a message to an NFL owner?

Chase’s mind-blowing skill set and a staff full of LSU coaches vouching for his exemplary work habits, leadership and personal conduct screams a louder message.

Leaving a project without giving it a best effort to the very end?

Setting six LSU and four SEC records, including the most receiving yards and most TD catches in a season on a 15-0 national championship team, more than qualifies as “best effort.”

Pay back a scholarship?

Why? Because he’s black? Didn’t he put in his blood, sweat and tears to earn it? Should white players also pay back scholarships if they enter the draft before their athletic eligibility expires?

The intent of college is to get a degree and football comes second?

That’s a very outdated “one size should fit all” Caucasian view. Tell that to all the college graduates who currently string together several menial jobs to pay their monthly bills.

Will the NFL trust the skill of someone who they haven’t seen in 16 months?

“This will have no effect on his draft status, zero,” Louisiana-based NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier said of Chase. “He is an elite talent.”

College athletes, even the “can’t miss” pro prospects, should be made to stay all four years in college to justify all the “free” benefits they received?

This is so stunningly uninformed and out-of-touch it’s a waste of time and oxygen to offer a rebuttal.

The biggest surprise about Chase’s decision is it took him so long to understand it’s his best course of action. Too many facts added up leading him in that direction and it doesn’t matter if agents, advisors or whoever got in he and his family’s collective ear.

The fact he didn’t come to a conclusion about this sooner is not “bad timing.” It’s a reflection of a young man struggling with a decision to leave a school, a football program, teammates and a coaching staff he loved and will always love.

“There is nothing I want to do more than suit up in #7 for the LSU Tigers,” Chase wrote in his Twitter feed Monday afternoon officially announcing his decision. “However, after careful consideration and many emotional conversations with my family, I have come to the difficult decision and will opt out of the 2020 season.

“The competitor in me badly wants to play the season and go to war with my brothers, but during this time with so much going on, this is what’s best for my family. . .I have been fighting the thoughts and the concerns that have crept into my mind but I cannot ignore what I feel in my heart and this is ultimately the best decision for me.”

From the moment Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s best receiver as a sophomore sensation last season, the odds were against him repeating a year in which he set six school records and four SEC marks.

As good as Chase is, he would have been hard-pressed to approach last year’s phenomenal numbers of 1,780 yards on 84 catches (21.2 yards per catch) and 20 TDs.

Chase has been working with new starting quarterback (Myles Brennan), an offensive line with one returning starter (Austin Deculus) and a first-year passing game coordinator (Scott Linehan).

For whatever reason, Chase’s numbers might be reduced this season, whether it’s LSU depending more on a running game to take pressure off Brennan as he transitions into becoming a starter or Chase being double-teamed the majority of the time.

But know this. Every NFL team realizes what Chase can do. They don’t need to see him play any more college football. They are excited by the prospect of a stronger and faster Chase with fresh legs emerging after seven months of training.

Naturally, the loss of Chase has led to doomsday predictions of the Tigers’ demise. After all, the LSU’s offense is now reduced to 5.86% of its passing yardage (107th in FBS) returning from last season, 27.1% of its rushing yardage (115th), and 21.81% of its receiving yardage (128th).

Under past Tigers’ head coaching regimes, there would be panic. Now, it’s simply time for LSU coach Ed Orgeron to plug in talent he has gathered from four recruiting classes dating back to 2017.

The Tigers currently have eight wide receivers and three tight ends on scholarship, including three 5-star signees (led by returning junior starter Terrace Marshall Jr. and true freshmen Arik Gilbert and Kayshon Boutte), two 4-star recruits and six 3-star prospects.

LSU’s last two recruiting classes have produced two 5-star, two 4-star and two 3-star signees (the latter which shouldn’t be taken lightly because 2020 first-round NFL Draft choice Justin Jefferson was a 3-star wide receiver recruiting afterthought in LSU’s signing class of 2017).

Also committed to the Tigers’ 2021 recruiting classes are three 4-star prospects rated among the top 15 high school wide receivers in the nation, led by Zachary’s Chris Hilton.

The loss of Chase hurts, but it’s not the devastating “Whoa is me, the season is over” departure.

It may take a few games for five true freshmen pass catchers to adapt. Also, Brennan is following Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow, but he’s prepared for the moment. He shouldn’t be discounted so easily. The suggestion his inexperience as a starter is a reason why Chase is moving on is insulting.

The fact LSU has a waiting list of talented wide receivers and tight ends ready to bust out in an aggressive offense still dialed in an attack mode is a sign of the stable state of the program.

LSU lost 14 players in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Well, yeah. You don’t blitz through 15 opponents and win a national title with marginal talent.

Three more returning starters (Chase, defensive end Neil Farrell Jr., Kary Vincent Jr.)  decided to sit out the season, including two ending their careers to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Good luck.

Another departure (safety Eric Monroe) became a graduate transfer who moved on to find more playing time at Texas Tech.

Good for him.

The constant change of influx and outflux of talent is characteristic of consistent national championship contending programs. LSU hasn’t been one and if it wants to be regarded at such level, it “doesn’t blink” as Orgeron likes to say.

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