Gurley injury shows NCAA's flaws

Maybe someday soon they'll call it the Todd Gurley Rule.

Soon after Georgia and the Southeastern Conference have raked in millions of dollars from the new College Football Playoff, and after plaintiff's attorneys have collected even more money in fees from the NCAA in the myriad lawsuits over amateurism currently being debated in federal courts, maybe we'll remember Gurley when student-athletes are finally paid fair compensation for their names, images and likenesses.

If there was ever an example of why NCAA student-athletes need to be provided with more compensation than free tuition, housing and meals, we saw it near the end of No. 15 Georgia's 34-7 victory over No. 9 Auburn at Sanford Stadium on Saturday night.

After returning from a four-game suspension for breaking the NCAA's cardinal rule of amateurism by receiving money for his own signatures, Gurley tore the ACL in his left knee on his final run of the game. Georgia officials announced Sunday night that Gurley will need surgery and will miss the rest of the season, which will probably end his college career.

Maybe Gurley's legacy will now be that he'll become the poster child for what's wrong with the NCAA's archaic rules that prohibit student-athletes from profiting from their own names and stardom.

After Gurley played in only six games of his junior season because of his suspension and his devastating injury, his legacy on the field sure seems only half-full.

"It's sad," Georgia coach Mark Richt told reporters Sunday night. "Sad news."

What's even sadder is that Gurley, who was a leading Heisman Trophy contender before Georgia suspended him in early October, could fall out of the first round of next spring's NFL draft because of his injury. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay considered Gurley a potential first-round pick before he was hurt.

Gurley could fall even lower than the second round as he tries to make his way back from an injury that is sometimes insurmountable for running backs to recover from.

I'm certainly not excusing what Gurley did to earn a four-game suspension. Although the NCAA's rules about receiving money for autographs might be silly and outdated, Gurley knew he was breaking the rules that were in place. And it wasn't simply a momentary lapse of judgment. When the NCAA ruled that Gurley would have to sit out four games, it said he received $3,000 from multiple memorabilia dealers over two years. So he knew the rules and willfully broke them.

But Georgia officials and Gurley's attorney also argued that Gurley sold his autographs because of mitigating circumstances. He grew up in a mobile home park in Tarboro, North Carolina, and his mother still lives there. His mother's trailer needs a new roof and the porches are falling off.

Outside of what Gurley is paid by Georgia officials for his room and board, he doesn't have much of anything in terms of money and material possessions. Why shouldn't he be able to profit from his popularity while in college? Georgia is selling his jersey on its website and in its bookstore and earning millions of dollars from the TV networks that broadcast its games.

Do we need any more evidence that it can all end on one tackle?

Thankfully, Georgia officials recently increased Gurley's insurance policy to $10 million in coverage, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell. Under the terms of the policy, Gurley would be paid $5 million for total disability if he never plays again and up to $5 million in loss of value if he falls in the draft because of the injury.

According to Rovell, Georgia's athletics association paid $50,000 to $60,000 in premiums for the insurance, which is permitted under NCAA rules.

But Gurley is one of the lucky ones who gets that type of insurance coverage because he's a superstar. This is a rarity among the rank-and-file players.

Maybe it's even time to challenge the NFL's rules that prohibit a college football player from entering the draft until three years after he graduates from high school. Running backs already have a diminishing value in pro football, and players like Gurley and former South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a devastating injury of his own in college and recently had to retire from the San Francisco 49ers, are probably ready to turn pro after only two seasons in college.

Why not let a running back turn pro before his odometer reaches 500 career carries in college? Why not keep a few miles off his legs? Is it any wonder why NFL teams are now reluctant to select tailbacks in the first round of the draft? Many of them have dead legs by the time they get to the pros.

The saddest irony is that more than a few people probably advised Gurley to sit out the rest of this season, even though he was eligible to return for the Bulldogs' final three regular-season games. His chances of winning the Heisman Trophy were dashed by his long suspension, and the Bulldogs' chances of making the College Football Playoff are slim after they suffered their second loss of the season on Nov. 1.

More than a few Georgia fans wondered whether Gurley wasn't better off sitting out the rest of the season, starting his preparations for the NFL draft combine and saving his legs for the NFL. If nothing else, Gurley could have signed whatever he wanted to put some cash in his pocket.

But just like that, after the Bulldogs waited more than a month to get Gurley back, his college career is probably over. Sure, he could return to Georgia for his senior season in 2015 after recovering, but why risk exposing himself to another injury?

Now, Georgia and Gurley are left to wonder what might have been.

"Todd's been fantastic," Richt said. "Without a doubt, one of the best running backs I've ever seen, have ever coached. Practiced hard and played hard. Loved the big games, and played his heart out for Georgia. [I'm] just really proud that I had an opportunity to coach him."