A year ago, a trio of Oklahoma football players pondered their status in the NFL Draft and decided to take the plunge, to much criticism. This January, a quartet of Sooners pondered their status in the NFL Draft and decided to stay at OU, to much fanfare.
But we’ve been missing the question, which is not, should they stay or should they go? The question is, why do they have to decide now? It’s time for college football to end its collusion with the NFL, to the detriment of the players it is supposed to protect. The NCAA should not strip the eligibility from players who declare for the NFL Draft or even players who are drafted. You should lose your eligibility only when you sign with an agent or sign with a pro franchise. Why should Sam Bradford or G.K. McCoy have to decide their future based on guesswork? If a college junior wants to make himself available for the draft, let the pros put their money where their mouth is. You want a player? You draft him and you sign him. The current system benefits the schools and the NFL, which has a free-of-charge, built-in farm system. It does not benefit the powerless players. The NFL likes the current rule because it zaps players of their bargaining power. Once college eligibility is stripped, players have little leverage and contracts are largely slotted. Costs are managed. Colleges like the rule because it makes things nice and tidy. Declare in January, and the recruiters can fill up the vacant scholarships. Lose a guy in April or May, and that set of shoulder pads is impossible to replace. But it’s a flawed system, in which the powerful exploit the powerless. Why should Bradford or McCoy or Jermaine Gresham or Trent Williams have to make a decision based on how much they think they will be paid? Far better for them to make a decision based on how much they are actually offered. Here’s why college football should end its capitulation with the NFL: Allowing players to return even after the draft would almost surely result in fewer juniors turning pro. That’s not a good thing for college football? The NFL would respond by drafting fewer juniors, even if it countered by allowing franchises to retain the draft rights to players picked but not signed. College coaches’ long-time sermon — how their players would be better off staying in school longer — would come to fruition.