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NFL, AFCA agree on new guidelines, access for scouting underclassmen

NFL Combine - Day 6

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 29: Defensive back Eli Apple of Ohio State runs with the ball during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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The NFL and the American Football Coaches Association have reached an agreement on new guidelines that will allow NFL teams to meet, scout and test certain underclass draft prospects nearly a year before they declare -- or choose not to declare -- for the draft.

The new rules come after many top college coaches, including Nick Saban of Alabama and Urban Meyer of Ohio State, campaigned for greater access and possibly even an underclass combine to prevent young players from making poor decisions about whether or not to enter the draft.

The new agreement, which goes into effect in early 2017, does not include an underclass combine but will allow college programs to designate players eligible for extra scouting and, per the release on the new agreement, those players can be “tested and interviewed prior to their 2017 college seasons at the school’s senior pro day for 2017 draft-eligible players.”

The change marks progress from an antiquated system that basically had scouts pretending like they weren’t evaluating players who weren’t seniors.

Information is good,” Meyer said in July. "[The players] are getting their information somewhere, so why not get it from the experts — the scouts, the general managers, people who have the right information? They’re getting it from agents and they’re getting it from wannabes, and that’s not good information.”

In 1994 the NFL established an underclass advisory committee that works with the NFL’s two sanctioned scouting organizations to provide pre-draft grades on eligible players who are facing a draft decision. Among the gripes Meyer and other prominent coaches have had with the current system are a lack of time from the end of the college season to the deadline and the lack of access players have had to real opinions from league scouts and executives.

Beginning in February, each school can designate up to five players eligible for additional scouting and will have the opportunity to designate more than five players in certain situations. It basically means that on the 2017 pro day circuit, scouts will also get to evaluate top prospects for future drafts.

“The more information our college advisory committee has, the better evaluations they can make for student-athletes who are at a critical juncture of their lives,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said in the statement. “While there is no question that obtaining a college degree is a transformative experience for so many people in society and a goal to which we encourage everyone to aspire to, for those talented few individuals that have the ability to succeed in the NFL prior to exhausting their college football eligibility, this new agreement will ensure they have better information with which to make their decision. We appreciate the efforts of our partners at the AFCA in making this new agreement a reality.”