On Wednesday, Mike Williams made public his intention of returning to USC on Petros Papadakis’ show on 1540 AM. He made the right choice, but let’s not kid ourselves. What other choice did Williams have? He could not enter a supplemental draft unless he or Maurice Clarett won a case against the NFL in time for the season, and chances of that were slim.
He did not want to play in the CFL or the Arena Football League, and that wouldn’t have helped his draft status. Sitting a full season would definitely have dropped him in the draft. By coming back to USC, he stays in the minds of NFL scouts throughout the season, and he can improve on some of the things that he was knocked for: inconsistent routes, taking plays off and spotty effort in blocking. This was the right move, and if the NCAA allows him to come back, there is little doubt that he will reap the benefits in the 2005 NFL Draft. He could end up the No. 1 overall pick, as Keyshawn Johnson was before him.
Undoubtedly, Williams had to swallow his pride to come back. There was some bad blood between him and the fans, coaches, his teammates and the university when he decided to declare for the draft. No one should allow themselves to think that Mike Williams is attempting to return because he loves USC. He expressed his disappointment in being left out of the draft in the interview with Papadakis. If there was any choice, he would be preparing for an NFL training camp as we speak.
There is a feel good element for USC fans, but this was a business decision, something that Mike did for himself, not the university, the football team or its fans. It was the only way to go, but it is good that Williams had the sense to take that route. Personally, I thought that his ego would not allow him to try to come back to USC.
This is only the first decision in the process though, and I think that there are more that need to be made. If Williams is going to return to USC, then nothing less than complete dedication to the team and the university can be accepted. There is still speculation regarding whether he will attend summer school or not. Some outside and inside the program believe that he may not need to attend summer school because of a waiver he signed right after he declared. Maybe that’s true. Those who participate in Mormon missions sign these waivers so that they do not lose their eligibility. Malaefou McKensie also signed one when he left school to be with his family after his father passed away. Those situations are different though, because both McKensie and Mormon missionaries skip football seasons when they sign these waivers. Mike Williams does not want to miss next season.
I’m not going to pretend to know how the NCAA is going to rule on this issue. I’m willing to guess that those at USC handling the reinstatement process don’t know what the NCAA will do. Because of the gray area there, Williams needs to do everything he can to strengthen his case, and show USC and the NCAA that he is serious about being reinstated. That means enrolling and attending summer school. There’s no good reason to skip it. The only reason that I can think of for not attending summer school is laziness. Going to class will definitely give the NCAA more leverage to allow him to come back.
Think of the heat the NCAA will take if they reinstate Williams, knowing that he could have gone to summer school and decided not to. Imagine the opinion articles blasting the NCAA for bringing back an athlete who wouldn’t even make himself go to summer school to make his academic situation better. The NCAA will be accused of hypocrisy, of bowing to pressure and the almighty dollar.
If Williams goes to summer school, the NCAA can more easily dismiss the fact that he missed the spring. “He thought he would be off to the pros.” “Juniors do the same thing when they leave early.” “This is a unique circumstance, but he’s currently doing what he can on the academic front.” Williams needs to make this decision as easy as he possible can for the NCAA. If he wants to come back, he needs to show that he is willing to do whatever it takes to come back.
I think it’s fair to assume that once he is done with the 2004 season, he will be off to the NFL. That means that he need only take and pass classes through the end of the fall semester. I don’t think going to school for the summer and fall is too much to ask.
There is another loose end to tie up. After the way things went when Williams declared, considering some of the comments that he made, he should be grateful that the school is willing to bring him back. I understand that he may have felt betrayed by some statements that certain parties made. Some of the things that were said were hurtful, and I know that he saw them. However, that does not excuse some of these comments though. His teammates were not making negative comments to the media about him. I never saw a single negative quote about Mike Williams from any one of his teammates. The statements that he gave about the guys that have sweated with him on the playing field were absolutely ridiculous. "I looked at the confidence level of this team and other teams that I've been on and I didn't see a high confidence level on this team. We're so young and we don't have a lot of impact guys. I just see a bunch of football players who are individuals. We don't have a bunch of players who just love football. We don't have guys who are self-motivated. I don't want to name any names because I love my teammates, but they know who they are." Making comments like those in February, a month after a team had secured a national title, had been the model of team play, and had not met for a single practice to prepare for the 2004 season, quite frankly is a joke.
Maybe things were going on behind the scenes within the team that caused some bad feelings. Regardless of that, those comments should not have been made publicly. Of all that happened in the past few months, this is THE thing that Mike should be ashamed of. He needs to apologize to his teammates, and any further problems he has with them need to be kept in house. The negative things that were said about Mike had nothing to do with his teammates, and he took his frustrations out on them.
There’s also the issue of comments that he made about the fans. Again, Mike took the comments of a few and blasted everyone as a result. That’s not fair to the fan base. I’m not here to demand that Mike apologize to USC fans. To me, if the university, the coaching staff, and his teammates are willing to take him back, it’s none of our business. Mike should not be made to get down on his knees and beg USC fans for forgiveness. However, Mike needs to know that the things that he said rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, people who supported his decision to go to the NFL, people who wished him the best for him in the future. He needs to know that most of us will wish him well no matter what he says about the fan base or the school. As a result, Mike Williams needs to think before he speaks, so that he does not end up alienating a large group of people who want nothing but the best for him, for the mere reason that he attends the university that we all love.
Despite all of that, USC fans should welcome Mike Williams back if the NCAA allows him to return, and if the university wants him back. The decision is not ours, and it should not be. Mike has made mistakes in this process, but one of the things that USC people tell each and every kid who applies for admission to the school is that USC is a family. Families don’t turn their backs on kids who say and do foolish things. Families don’t cut ties with people because they have done hurtful things. Personally, if Mike decided to come back, and then an injury kept him from playing a single game, we should welcome him back because he is a Trojan. Others are going to say that USC doesn’t care about academics because they are bringing back a player who did not take classes in the spring. Others will say that after Mike made comments about USC, his teammates and the fans, that all of the parties are kissing his butt just because he’s a great football player. Others will say that it’s a mockery. Ignore them. Families don’t shed their loyalties because of what outsiders say. We should welcome Mike Williams back not because he will help us on the field, not because he could help the Trojans to another national title, not because he could bring another Heisman to Heritage Hall. We should welcome Mike back for one simple reason: he is a Trojan, and he always will be.
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