Emotion flowed from the words of North Carolina State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon:
"I have prayed and discussed the path forward with my family, and we have decided that it is time to proceed to the next chapter of my life."
One of two Wolfpack players to skip his school's December trip to the Gator Bowl, his words were echoed across the land. Financial concerns have come to supersede loyalty. Worries about health top a bowl trip.
What seemed unique in 2016 when Stanford's Christian McCaffery and LSU's Leonard Fournette drew the headlines, became routine as the NFL-bound withdrawals approached double figures late last year.
"Having been injured, I realize how fleeting this sport can be," said linebacker Devin Bush, one of three Michigan players to skip the Peach Bowl. At Ohio State, Nick Bosa is a contender for the NFL draft's top spot after an early-season injury influenced him to withdraw when he might have returned.
West Virginia's Will Grier pulled the plug after throwing 37 TD passes during the regular season. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver figures to go top five after declining Houston's bowl trip. Noah Fant pulled out and let all-star teammate T.J. Hockenson handle Iowa's tight end duties in the Outback Bowl (who has two tight ends that good?).
Overnight, for the soon-to-be-rich, it became the thing to do.
Living in 'Zion's world'
What football started became a roaring basketball issue when Zion Williamson's Nike sneaker exploded, injuring his right knee early during Wednesday night's Duke-North Carolina showdown.
Williamson was in some ways bigger than the game he missed. Because of him, ticket scalping reached Super Bowl numbers. But for him, former President Barack Obama wouldn't have been sitting behind the Duke bench.
As The Athletic's Seth Davis said: "This is Zion's world. We're just debating in it."
So everyone is asking: Is it wise for Williamson to risk playing out the season when he is assured of at least $41 million (four years) as the No. 1 NBA draft pick, and many more millions as other companies try to capitalize on Nike's misfortune (shoe apparel rivals are lining up; ain't competition wonderful)?
OK, other than the four-team College Football Playoff, bowl games are exhibitions. The NCAA tournament is the real deal, and it's my guess that Williamson, who sat out the Syracuse game Saturday, won't want to miss it. Who can turn down the opportunity to attain unmatched popularity, and at the same time increase your endorsement value?
Risk worth taking?
But consider the risk factor for essentially no pay, when you're actually promoting "the shoe that throwed you."
Did someone say risk? Already this season, injuries have taken projected first-rounders Darius Garland of Vanderbilt, Jontay Porter of Missouri and Bol Bol (son of Manute Bol) of Oregon, not to mention dozens of other pro prospects, including Killian Tillie of Gonzaga, Udoka Azubuike of Kansas, Joshua Langford of Michigan State and Isaac Copeland of Nebraska.
In my private survey, seven crazed (like me) basketball buddies were queried whether they would encourage their son to play under the Williamson circumstances. All agreed with Scottie Pippen and DeMarcus Cousins. A flat no. Ambiguous me was the only equivocator.
"Zion has nothing to prove," said one. "He is an athletic freak but if the knee problem causes him to lose the ability to elevate, imagine how that affects his value?"
Can't argue that point. A second knee injury would almost certainly cast doubts about his long-term future. But that's a gamble all athletes must deal with.
Dollars and sense
Back to the money. It must be important to the family. You'll recall in the corruption trial that Merl Code, an Adidas dealmaker, was caught on a wiretap with Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend as follows:
"Hey, between me and you, you know, he (Williamson's father) asked about some stuff, you know ... he's asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he's asking for cash in the pocket and he's asking for housing for him and his family."
Townsend was heard to reply: "I've got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that's what it takes to get him for 10 months, we're going to have to do it some way."
There can be little doubt that head coach Bill Self, then seeking Williamson, knew of Townsend's seeming willingness to break a fundamental NCAA rule. Townsend remains a Jayhawk aide.
The main thing the wiretap reveals is that the elder Williamson was interested in benefiting from his son's all-world talent. And most assuredly still is.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.