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Chris McCullough Isn't The Problem, College Athletics Is The Problem

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Don't blame Chris McCullough for leaving. Blame the system that required him to come here in the first place.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

My immediate reaction to the news that Chris McCullough was going pro after one abbreviated season with the Syracuse Orange?

"Damn, that sucks."

I said that to myself as a Syracuse fan. McCullough's departure deprives the 2015-2016 team of arguably it's best player. It leaves a serious gap in the starting lineup and casts newfound doubt on the ability of next year's squad to bounce back from a down season. Also, it means The Chris McCullough Era will never meet any expectations, let alone whatever lofty ones any of us had.

McCullough came to us as a conquering hero and, sixteen games later, he's gone without conquering anything.

Once that initial disappointment worked its way through my system, it gave way to another sentiment.

"Fair enough."

These points have been made so many times I've lost count, but, Chris McCullough is doing what he thinks is best for Chris McCullough and that's exactly what he should do. He's playing basketball for a head coach, university and fanbase with their own priorities. Yes, he's got a scholarship but it's for a college education that is secondary to him. Otherwise, he's putting in the time and effort for free. He's doing so at his own peril given that one of his legs is recovering from a torn ACL. All the while, a professional league dedicated to the sport he loves is offering him the opportunity to play for them and get paid to do it.

Like I said, fair enough.

We can all sit here and say that Chris McCullough would be "better off" spending another year at Syracuse and then going higher in the NBA Draft, but the truth is, there are no guarantees no matter how he plays it. Go pro now and recover on a team's dime with the hope of breaking into a line-up while getting paid. Or, roll the dice that your leg holds up while you improve your stock at SU where people can buy your jersey for $100 and you'll get 0% of the profits.

College sports are built on tradition and history and the passion those things bring out in the alumni and fanbases. It ends up giving college fanbases a default setting of "program-first," whether they're conscious of it or not. We don't like the concept of players going pro early because it hurts the program. We don't like the idea of coaches leaving for other jobs cause they're supposed to have loyalty to the program. We love a recruit until the second he chooses our rival and then we hate his guts because we support OUR program.

And that's how we get to the point where Syracuse fans are on social media attacking McCullough for his decision to pursue a career in his chosen profession.

That's not surprising and it's par for the course at this point. A player leaves early and the fans who supported him while he wore the uniform are the first to turn on him when he fails to meet their expectations.

I just wish those people could take a step back and see that they're punishing the wrong people and that players like McCullough are forced into an impossible situation.

The problem isn't the players. The problem is the fact that the players are required to come here in the first place.

Chris McCullough's goal was not to come to Syracuse and win a championship. His goal has always been to go to the NBA and become a millionaire while playing basketball against the best in the world. But in order to do that, he is required to spend at least one season in college (or play overseas) because of a rule that is, quite simply, Un-American.

It's an NBA rule that requires players to wait until they're a certain age before they are allowed to earn a living at their profession, even if they are ready and even if the teams involved in the league want them.

If you're talented enough and there's interest in your services, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to offer your services. And that's the ironic part...McCullough is leaving because NBA teams are interested in him. The ones who put the rule in place are the ones who want him to leave school and join them so desperately.

There are so many reasons the current college system is broken that it's hard to keep track of them all. Requiring reluctant players to attend college when they really don't want to is just one of many things that make no sense.

Ultimately, the problem is that we either refuse to make the necessary changes because of tradition/history/etc., or, we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that "everything used to be perfect."

That's the point, Dana! The concept of amateur athletics in terms of college sports is an antiquated idea that we cling to even though it's long been dead. The system made sense in the 1920's when pro salaries were nominal, pro leagues were sparse and playing for a college was a goal. It hasn't made sense in a long time.

And every time we pack another rule on top of this ridiculous house of cards in an attempt to fix what's already broken, we just create more anger, more frustration and more resentment between fans and players.

As a Syracuse fan, I'm bummed that I won't get to see Chris McCullough be what I hoped he would be in an Orange uniform.

As a person, I wish Chris well in his endeavors and I'll root for him to succeed. His success is our success. He's earned the chance to live his dreams. He owes me nothing just because we share a school.

Meanwhile, I'll keep waiting for the people who know better to figure out what we already know. That college athletics is broken and it's time to start fixing it instead of just blaming players and burying our heads deeper in the sand.