Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema might be on to something here.
In a conversation with NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread from earlier in the week, the typically outspoken Bielema floated the notion of the NCAA allowing underclassmen to return to school upon going undrafted by the NFL.
“I haven’t touched base with (Auburn coach Gus Malzahn) yet, but Gus had two that didn’t get drafted. Dan (Mullen) had a couple at Mississippi State. Ohio State had a couple as well,” says Bielema. “Those coaches, I’m reaching out to them and trying to put together some collective thoughts on how to approach it. Now, some kids maybe had to move on for academic reasons or personal reasons. … But if you have a guy like Denver (Kirkland), who’s on progression to graduate, is doing the right things and just needs another year.”
The list of undrafted SEC underclassmen from this year includes: Mississippi State receiver De’Runnya Wilson (above, right), Auburn offensive tackle Avery Young, Arkansas o-lineman Denver Kirkland, Mississippi State linebacker Beniquez Brown and Auburn tailback Peyton Barber (above, left). After draft weekend, some of these players signed entry-level free-agent contracts with NFL clubs.
Sure, Bielema may have been thinking out loud with the above quote, informally tackling a subject which likely doesn’t rank super-high on the NCAA’s to-do list.
But it’s still a timely topic worth broaching. In fact …
What’s the downside of letting undrafted juniors or draft-eligible sophomores return to school — assuming they never signed with an agent, accepted monies from prospective agents and were in good standing with a university before declaring?
The NBA and NCAA have already co-opted this proposal, allowing declared/undrafted prospects who don’t sign with agents to return to college — with no penalty.
So, why wouldn’t the NCAA and NFL sign off on a similar agreement? If no monies had ever been exchanged between prospect and agent, and the players have the capacity to reimburse others for NFL combine-related expenses, then what’s the long-term harm here?
Some glitches could arise with this change, valid points such as:
a) College team rosters (along with scholarship counts) would require some adjustments, if a program welcomed back a small handful of undrafted players (with remaining eligibility) and those previously vacated spots were filled with fresh recruits.
b) The undrafted players have already missed spring practice with their college programs. Of course, this would likely only be a major hindrance if a new coaching regime has assumed control.
Here’s another thing to consider:
Mike Florio, the founder and head honcho of the wildly successful ProFootballTalk.com blog (the go-to NFL site/app for nearly 15 years), believes that allowing undrafted players to return could create a secondary problem: More players would feel emboldened to leave school early, thinking that fewer consequences exist.
On the surface, this is plausibly true; but there isn’t much glory reserved for football prospects getting slighted (read: ignored) in a seven-round NFL draft. Also, with the exception of major injury, it’s not like a draft-eligible junior would magically go undrafted one year … and end up as a first-round pick the following spring.
In earnest, that humbled kid would simply desire a chance to continue his education (undergrad/grad level), develop his on-field skill set, tackle some rival schools one last time … and maybe end up as a Day 2 selection (Rounds 2 and 3) one year from now.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.