A Perspective on the NFL Draft

Let’s look right past all of their rhetoric and focus onwhat is truly behind the NCAA and NFL’s outcries of doom forathletes below the age of 21 who are set to enter the NFL. It ismostly about money and job security — and far less about theathletes’ education or health.

The NCAA continues their laughable claim that the young menplaying football at Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and otherprominent college programs are students first and athletes second,while university administrators and coaches echo this sentiment.The NFL wants everyone to believe that Maurice Clarett, MikeWilliams and any other future player that leave school before theirjunior seasons are at such a great risk to suffer career endinginjures that an age-requirement is necessary.

For years that indeed were the case — a player could not enterthe NFL unless they were three years removed from high school. Butthat was until Clarett challenged the giants and won.

The courts’ decision in the landmark case, Maurice Clarettvs. National Football League, ruled that an age restrictionviolated anti-trust laws and, in effect, opened up the NFL Draft toany athlete regardless of age — much like Major League Baseball,the National Basketball League and the National Hockey League.

With the 2004 NFL Draft less the two days away, (April 24-25),you will undoubtedly hear this issue debated as audible as ever, asten players no more than two years removed from high school, sevenof which will have just attended their senior prom, have declaredfor the NFL Draft.

But despite what the NFL and NCAA want to pass off as the utmostconcern for the student-athletes (getting an education) and theyoung men (their health), it boils down to minding their pocketsand keeping their gigs.

Perhaps the NCAA is dreading the talent-drain to the NFL and theloss of future three or four year stars — like Peyton and EliManning, Ricky Williams, Desmond Howard and Orlando Pace — thathelp attract billion dollar television contracts and million dollarrelationships with corporate sponsors. Maybe the collegesthemselves envision losing the millions of dollars, as theystruggle to keep their programs competitive and face the loss ofBowl game appearances, dwindling fan supports, alumni-giving andbooster funds — direct results of talent-diluted rosters andincreased player change over. And might the NFL be most concernedabout extra insurance costs that may accompany injuries to youngerbodies or a lesser product being displayed on the field withyounger players learning in pros what has long been taught by thecollege programs?

Student-athlete? Right.

Why are there so many stories that document players finishingtheir four or five-year athletic careers without degrees? If theemphasis were on education and obtaining a degree would this be soprevalent? And there are the instances where a”student-athlete” suffers a career-ending injury (whilein college, proof that it can happen anywhere) and the universityrescinds his scholarship. But that makes sense doesn’t it?Stripping away financial aid once the athlete’s injuryrenders him solely a student — that is a resounding example of the”student” being paramount in the”student-athlete” relationship.

Then of course there is the reality that many of the young menentering the college football programs are not even looking toobtain a degree. They go to college to serve what once was therequired three years, and try a chance at their dream, an NFLcareer, as soon as they can. Why handcuff these young men, who haveno aspirations of getting a degree, to three years of collegefootball? Sounds like forced service.

Apparently the NFL does not want them either. “Don’tthrow us your inexperienced and under-developed kids.” Wellthen don’t draft them — seems simple right?

The NFL claims to being looking for the young men’shealth, but if a separate entity was bearing the burden ofinsurance cost do you think this would be such a big deal?

And the NFL has profited from a free farm-system for too long.Instead of having league sponsored and funded farm systems like MLBand the NHL, the NFL has quite craftily profited from being able todraft somewhat grown and experienced football players from college.Unlike the NBA, who has seen its product suffer, to a degree, fromyoung players coming into the league right out of high school orleaving after their freshmen years, the NFL has had the privilegeof drafting players ages 21 and older. And they do not pay the NCAAa dime. Sweet deal.

The NFL is a business and so are the NCAA and college footballprograms (as much as they like to say otherwise). You can’tfault them for concerning themselves with the bottom line, but youcan fault them for trying cover over their primary concern andattempting to fool the public into thinking this is an issue of theplayers’ welfare. Yes, there will be some players who makethe wrong decision and end up ruining there careers. But let thatbe there prerogative. The true bottom line really deals with aplayer having the autonomy to choose his path, whether he is 18, 19or 20-years-old.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if a reporter were to ask theUniversity of Southern California’s athletic director what hethought about Mike William’s decision to leave early and hesaid, “I think it sucks. Especially if a lot of other playersstart doing it. It’ll cost us millions.”

Go get those millions of your own Mike.