The NCAA added a new rule for players that went undrafted in the NBA Draft this past season. Basically, anyone with NCAA eligibility left can return to school if they go undrafted. Even if they get an agent, but that agent has to be on an approved list by the NCAA. The goal is to not let any underclassmen left out in the dark. In previous years, players that entered the draft early were stuck if they weren’t drafted at all. That meant finding a semi-pro team or heading over to Europe was their next move. This rule gives players another option if things don’t go as planned. So if the rule is good enough for college basketball, why not college football?
In the 2019 NFL Draft, 103 underclassmen elected to forego their college careers and take their chances on making an NFL roster. After the draft, there were 30 underclassmen who weren’t selected at all. Some of those guys were projected to go as high as the fourth round. So it’s understandable why they would want to take their chances of taking their game to the next level. Especially when you factor in the combine and pro days. Every one of these kids felt that they could impress NFL teams and some of them actually did. But now they’re sitting at home and waiting for a call in hopes of making at least the practice squad as an undrafted free agent.
Once an underclassman goes undrafted, they are extremely limited on their options. The can try to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent or they can go north of the border to the CFL. There are a few smaller leagues that still exist in Europe and Eastern Asia, but that’s usually the end of the road for a player. The AAF would have been another option if it didn’t suspend the season and the XFL could be an option next year. But if basketball players can have the option to return to school, then so should football players.
Granted, the NBA doesn’t have as many open spots as an NFL team does. However, they are all student-athletes under the NCAA. The eligibility rules should be the same. The NCAA should open up football to fall under the new rule as well because of that. They often send out the message that they strive for equal and fair play in all college sports. Well, that can get hypocritical if they only allow certain sports to be subject to this rule.
Even though I don’t think it’s the case, one has to wonder if the NCAA is not allowing this rule to football as punishment to players. After all, football is the main financial source to the NCAA even though they’re considered a non-profit organization. I think they are trying to use it more as a deterrent, but it still isn’t fair to football players. It may be fair if the NCAA decided to let schools pay football players a stipend over other sports, but that’s a whole different issue.
Several college football coaches have publicly expressed their disapproval in underclassmen entering the draft early. Alabama coach, Nick Saban has been one of the more popular coaches against the move. The way I look at that though is that coaches can leave a school anytime for a better opportunity, but a player can’t. That opportunity usually means more money. So it’s fine for a coach to make a decision based on financial gain, but not for one of their players. At least that’s the way I’m taking it. These coaches go to a player’s house, game, or school during the recruiting process and preach team unity among other things. Yet, they can leave for the next best thing at any given time.
Regardless of whether the NCAA is trying to deter college football players from entering the NFL draft early or not, underclassmen declaring early isn’t going to go away. And neither is the issue of many of them not getting drafted. This year, 29 percent of underclassmen went undrafted compared to 35 percent in 2018. There’s no reason why those kids cannot take advantage of the new basketball rule. Football prospects are fed the same lip service that basketball players are when it comes to their abilities. You’ll have analyst ranking some of them higher which gets players excited and gives them hope getting selected. Then you have agents who are only in it for a commission trying to persuade players and sometimes giving them false hopes. So giving football players the same opportunity as a second chance like basketball players should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the no-brainer decisions usually become head-scratching decisions when it comes to the NCAA.