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Bob Ryan

Rare case of Luck

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 9, 2011

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Bravo to Andrew Luck for rejecting his status as the unquestioned No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft in favor of returning to Stanford, although I must admit that’s easy for me to say.

I have never known hunger or deprivation in my life, and neither has he. I grew up far from anything that could be described as wealthy, but I never lacked for anything. From the time I was 11, Mary Ryan was what is known today as a “single mom,’’ when all she knew was that she was a widow. Thanks to her hard work, guidance, and love, I went to a great prep school and a great college and things have worked out pretty well for me, I’d say.

Andrew Luck did, in fact, grow up in a family of substantial means. His father, Oliver, was a standout football player at West Virginia who spent four years with the Houston Oilers before retiring and earning a law degree. He was the general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football and later the league president. He was CEO of the Houston Sports Authority. He is currently the director of athletics at his alma mater. He may not be Bill Gates, but I suspect he’s worth well into seven figures.

Andrew Luck has lived a life of privilege. His early education took place in London and Frankfurt. He knows the value of education, having been co-valedictorian of the Stratford High Class of 2008 (Houston). That, of course, is in addition to being a highly recruited quarterback.

The young man could have pretty much gone anywhere, but he chose Stanford, where, by all accounts, the term “student-athlete’’ is not the total farce it is at so many big-time colleges across the land.

You have to laugh. Year after year, they introduce these kids early in televised games, giving us, in addition to height, weight, and hometown, their alleged “majors.’’ Check out how many are said to be majoring in “general studies,’’ or my favorite, particularly when we are talking about juniors, “undecided.’’

But I have not come to rant about the fraud that big-time college sports so many times turns out to be. That topic will be with us for decades, and perhaps centuries, to come.

I’m just trying to explain Andrew Luck.

He says one reason he is going back to Stanford is to get his degree as a major in architectural design. A Stanford website informs us that “this undergraduate major in architectural design grants a degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering with a specialization in Architectural Design.’’ It goes on to say, “In addition to preparing students for advanced studies in architecture, the program’s strong math and science requirements prepare students for graduate work in other fields, such as civil and environmental engineering, law and business.’’

In other words, in the event that he is ACL’d or MCL’d out of his football career, he’s not going to starve.

It does appear that young Mr. Luck really is both a “student’’ and an “athlete’’ at Stanford, and the further implication is that he enjoys his life and is in no hurry to sample the next phase of human existence that immersion in the National Football League would represent.

Andrew Luck feels he can wait a year. Barring an injury catastrophe, he will be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. The NFL will still be there, and though the financial landscape is expected to be quite different than it is today, he will still become an instant multimillionaire. Daddy might have to ask him for a loan, rather than the other way around.

Meanwhile, he has the financial wherewithal to take his girl to a movie and have a pizza afterward, that being the classic circumstance cited by those who feel college athletes should be paid directly. But Andrew Luck is fortunate. He doesn’t need a handout from a Stanford booster.

The injury risk is self-evident. Obviously, he’s not worried. He will get insurance. But the financial implication is real. By waiting a year, he will indeed “leave money on the table,’’ and that is something not everyone can do.

So as much as I applaud him for being true to himself by prolonging the college experience, I must admit it’s easy for him to do. Life has dealt him a very good hand.

That is not the case for countless college athletes who have not been dealt comparable cards. It pains me to see so many talented but unpolished young basketball players either skip college or spend no more than two years in school before jumping to the NBA when they clearly aren’t ready, either on or off the court.

But they feel they have no choice. Money, or lack of same, has been the dominant issue in their lives since the moment they popped out of the womb, often to a teenage mom whose partner has already absented himself from the picture.

It’s a little bit better in football, where the pure physical circumstance makes it next to impossible for someone to advance directly from high school into the NFL. Even one-year collegiate stays are infrequent for football players. But by Year 3, the time has usually come. Even if there is a little flutter of the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah in someone’s heart, he has to ignore it. Back home there is so often a family in desperate need looking for him to be the financial savior. That kid can’t afford to leave a single dollar “on the table,’’ let alone millions of them.

Andrew Luck is twice blessed. He is 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds. He has a great arm. He clearly has a great brain to go with it. He has great family support. His future may include being the next Tom Brady, next Magic Johnson (who just sold his Starbucks interests for an estimated $100 million), or even the next Bill Bradley. If you’re Andrew Luck, going back to college makes sense.

The rest of them are saying, “Hey, some people have all the luck.’’

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.