He would have received a large signing bonus and given Andrew Luck a run for the money as a possible first pick in the draft.
Barkley knows all that, and he decided to return to USC.
That he would be criticized for a risky decision shows just how distorted values have become around sports.
Pundits are pointing out that he could be injured next year and never make it to the pros. Or he could have a mediocre year and end up lower in the draft like Matt Leinart.
Barkley knows all that and has made a heartwarming, inspirational decision based on his own value system. He clearly values education, the college experience, staying with his teammates and helping his university achieve more success above short-term dollars. He comes from a strong and grounded family and had the freedom to make a decision based on his own internal compass rather than a vote of football experts
This is the kind of young man that made us all sports fans in the first place. Fans have been dispirited by the perception that all athletes care about is money and fame.
Barkley is a shining beacon of good values and priorities. He is choosing to fulfill his scholarship promises and having the full measure of the college experience.
I have seen the influence that athletes can have as role models. I have helped them set up high school and collegiate scholarships and foundations that tackle causes they care about.
Barkley is making a powerful statement in a money-mad society about the ability to choose his own path.
Southern California sports fans have much to be happy about this holiday season — Chris Paul making Clippers relevant, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson making the Angels a contender — but the most inspirational event of them all is Barkley's wonderful decision to return to USC for his senior season.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.