Winning a gold medalist

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If Cal were its own country in the Olympics, it would have 17 medals — 11 of which are gold. That’s as many medals as Hungary, Spain and Brazil, and more than all but 13 of the 204 countries competing in London.

Now what if, in a few months or so, that number rises? What if Cal actually won 22 medals — 15 golds — and we didn’t even realize what was going on? What if the London Olympics really solidified Cal as the No. 1 school at which to be an Olympic athlete — instead of No. 2 or 3 — blowing Stanford, USC and every other American school out of the water?

What if Missy Franklin comes to Cal?

The 17-year-old has won more medals in London than any athlete not named Michael Phelps. Of her five medals, four were gold. Franklin made the enduring splash on the national scene Ryan Lochte was supposed to make, her class leaving a far more endearing impression than Lochte’s crass.

But as she enters her senior year of high school, Franklin has a decision to make: Go pro and make millions in endorsements? Or go to college, and make millions later?

Cal has never brought in an athlete with a profile as high as Franklin’s in any sport — men’s basketball and football included. Not that the school is short on high-profile athletes. But none has ever entered with the pedigree of Franklin.

If Franklin were her own country in the Olympics, she’d have as many medals as Turkey, Ireland and Lithuania — and as many golds than the three of them put together. She’s the LeBron James of women’s swimming. Except Franklin’s “decision” probably won’t be an hourlong ESPN special.

Or let’s just put it like this: Athletes like Missy Franklin just don’t come around very often.

It would be the perfect way to accept the torch handed to her by former Cal great Natalie Coughlin, arguably the greatest female swimmer of all time, and one of the school’s greatest Olympians ever. Heck, Franklin has even admitted Coughlin is her favorite athlete. After swimming just one event in London, Coughlin ceded the spotlight to fellow Cal gold medalists Dana Vollmer and Hardy, but no swimmer is primed for the mantle of ‘The World’s Best Female Swimmer’ better than Franklin.

And there’s no better place to accept that mantle than Cal.

If Franklin chooses college, it would be ludicrous for her to choose any place but Cal. She has visits lined up at Texas and USC — strong programs in their own right — but when it comes to swimming, Cal is in its own league. Teri McKeever’s squads have won three of the last four NCAA Championships. Her rosters are a who’s who on a list of the top swimmers in the world. Oh, and McKeever was Franklin’s coach in London. There is no better coach than McKeever. There is no better swimmer than Franklin. There is no better fit than Cal.

The only question is whether or not Franklin decides to go pro. She could make millions right now, but swimming is not baseball or football, where fortunes can fall on the whim of a torn rotator cuff or ACL. In the pool, Franklin won’t have to worry about injuries as she would in other sports: About her biggest concern as far as injuries go is getting shampoo in her eyes while washing the chlorine out of her hair.

I can understand if Franklin decides to take the money and run. Her face would look pretty good on a Wheaties box or in a Nike commercial. The money is there for the taking. She could become a millionaire before she’s even old enough to vote.

But for Franklin to choose the cash over a fun-loving college career, it would feel a little like she’s selling her soul. She’s already admitted she wants to go to college and swim with a college team. She’s already earned at least $50,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee for her two individual gold medals, as well as a $150,000 bonus from USA Swimming. There’s nothing wrong with Franklin pocketing the cash she’s already earned. Assuming the NCAA doesn’t nix her eligibility — and you never know with the NCAA — there’s nothing stopping her from competing at the collegiate level.

Choose college, Missy. Endear yourself to the 99 percent.

If you do, there’s no better place for you than Cal.