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Outdated “quarters” rule could change


PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: John Lynch #17 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrates during an NCAA football game against the San Jose State Spartans played on September 26, 1992 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

David Madison

Of all the dumb things the NFL does when it comes to tiptoeing around the free farm system that is college football, the absolute dumbest relates to the rule that prevents rookies who have been drafted and, in many cases, signed to contract from reporting for duty because educational institutions from which they’ve already withdrawn have yet to play Pomp and Circumstance.

That could be changing.

As explained by Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, the American Football Coaches Association has engaged in “preliminary discussions” with the league about changing the rule. The AFCA, which successfully pushed for the adoption of the rule more than 20 years ago, could be willing to abandon the rule that keeps incoming players from participating in anything more than one rookie minicamp until final exams have concluded.

It’s a problem with schools that operate on the quarters system, where the educational process doesn’t end until June. And so players who left school to prepare for the draft can’t show up for work until after exams have concluded to cap classes they aren’t even taking.

The AFCA, whose members benefit financially from the free labor provided by college football players, should be doing whatever it can to allow players who have landed NFL jobs from showing up and working out with teams that are actually paying them to play football. Still, unless the AFCA is willing to look the other way, it’s unlikely the NFL will push for change.

The league, which failed to respond to an email from PFT with questions regarding the rule, remains fearful of alienating college coaches. Still, more influential voices within the league are speaking out against the rule. In addition to the remarks from Panthers coach Ron Rivera regarding the inability of running back Christian McCaffrey to join the team, 49ers G.M. John Lynch recently explained his own concerns about the rule in a visit to PFT Live.

“It was frustrating when I was in that situation and drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993,” Lynch (pictured in his Stanford uniform) said. “I think back to at the time I left school to become a minor league baseball player and pursue a professional baseball career. I was with the Florida Marlins. I wasn’t even in school, we were on the quarters system. I went to the first quarter and then was off playing in the Midwest League, and I couldn’t go to [football] practice. It was frustrating then, it’s frustrating now. It seems like there’s a better way of doing it. I understand the intent. You don’t want guys dropping out of school so that they can go to practice. I do think that there’s a way around it. Hopefully, we can all get together and figure out a way to make it a little more sensible.”

Saying that he wants to figure out a way to make it “a little more sensible” implies that the rule is at least a little sensible. It’s not. At all.