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College coaches want more time, information for early draft entries

Alabama Football Monday Saban Presser Aug. 31


University of Alabama Coach Nick Saban and his counterpart at Arkansas, Bret Bielema, told reporters at the Southeastern Conference’s annual meetings Tuesday they’d like to see the NFL and NCAA pursue rule changes that would give underclassmen draft entries more flexibility to return to school if they may go undrafted or may be drafted later than initially thought.

Under the current rules, underclassmen must declare for the NFL Draft by mid-January. Among the potential changes Bielema and Saban have proposed is a combine-like event for underclassmen that would allow those players to better assess how they’re perceived by NFL evaluators.

“If you ask the NFL, ‘How can we maintain trust with our players when you’re giving us inaccurate information?’ Their response is ‘We don’t know enough about the guys to really give you the information because all we can really go on is film evaluation,’” Saban said. “That’s why we have a combine and all these other things. We want accurate information when that’s all said and done in December.”

Thirty players who gave up remaining college eligibilty to enter the 2016 NFL Draft went undrafted. An NBA rule change implemented for this year gave basketball prospects more time to evaluate their decisions and allowed them to participate in the league’s pre-draft combine ahead of the deadline to stay in the draft or return to school. The feedback those players got from NBA teams is something Bielema wants college football players to be able to receive from NFL evaluators.

“If (an underclassman) could sit down with NFL people or personnel people that are making the decisions firsthand, I think it could be a great resource,” Bielema said. “And you know what? It works out better for everybody. Graduation rates to go up. Success rates go up. Failure rates go down. Kids are in school longer. Kids are in preparation to be in the NFL to play longer.”

A potential rule change involving early draft entries is something Bielema has discussed previously -- probably for reasons that benefit him, as the coach at Arkansas -- and it sounds like something various people related to the SEC want to pursue. How realistic it is, or what else can be done to avoid players making really bad decisions, remains to be seen.

College football season ends about six weeks before the annual NFL Scouting Combine and just about the time the second semester starts at most universities. The NCAA doesn’t have much of a track record of being kind to athletes who want to get paid for playing but then try to return to college sports.

“Well, we’re in our first year of the new basketball reality. I’ve talked to a few of our coaches who have had the experience. I think the feedback’s been positive,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “The young people have real-time, very valid information on their draft status. And they know up front not to compromise their eligibility from an NCAA standpoint.

“There is conversation about how might you accomplish this same outcome in football. That is a little bit different. The timing of the end of the semester, when the draft occurs, preparation for the draft, what type of feedback might be there. The NCAA could change with no alteration of the NBA’s draft timeline, practically speaking. I’m not sure that happens from an NFL standpoint. It’s a good idea. There’s likely some thought and work that needs to be contributed to see if that good idea can become a reality.”