Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Why Wait Early Draft Eligibility: Exploring the Impacts of Underclassmen Entry in the National Football League Draft

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Why Wait Early Draft Eligibility: Exploring the Impacts of Underclassmen Entry in the National Football League Draft

Article excerpt


With every passing National Football League (NFL) draft, there is a cadre of college freshmen who possess the talent to take their game to the next stage. Unfortunately, NFL regulations require the athletes to complete three years of competition at the college level. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rules expiring in 2020, there is ample opportunity to consider changes to the current agreement. Although many disagree with the idea of allowing younger players to enter the NFL draft, the NFL could benefit from superstar NCAA athletes moving on to the NFL earlier. These players could generate greater revenues for the NFL and increase the level of competitiveness on the field.

The impact of the current NFL draft rules may be best illustrated through the story of Marcus Lattimore. After rushing for nearly 1,200 yards in his freshman season, Marcus Lattimore was heralded by many analysts as the best running back prospect for the 2013 draft (Williamson, 2014). He then rushed for a combined 1,835 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons at South Carolina (University of South Carolina, 2013). Despite some concerns about his health, he was projected as one of the top prospects headed into his junior season at South Carolina (Staples, 2013). Unfortunately, Lattimore suffered yet another knee injury, and the hopes for the economic security that came with being a first-round draft pick disappeared. After being projected as a first-round pick by many experts following his freshman season, NFL teams had major reservations about this future potential given his string of injuries. In the end, Lattimore was the final player drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft (NFL, 2013). Had draft eligibility requirements been different, and had he been eligible to enter the draft after his freshman or sophomore season, Lattimore undoubtedly would have been selected in the first round (Hilbert, 2013).

The Lattimore situation is not unique. Every year a handful of athletes complete stellar underclassman seasons and are projected as first round NFL Draft picks. The 2014 season saw a near repeat of the Lattimore situation to the University of Georgia's Todd Gurley. Gurley had a breakout freshman season, rushing for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. He followed this up with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns his sophomore season, despite being hampered by a mid-season injury. Even though he was limited in his second year, he was largely projected as a first-round draft pick in the following NFL Draft. Gurley suffered a knee injury mid-way through this junior season and saw his draft stock drop immediately. His injury, however, also sparked renewed calls to change the amateurism policies and allow college athletes to earn some sort of compensation while enrolled in college.

These instances are not isolated and are evidence that the NFL's collective bargaining agreement can be disruptive to college athletes earning their full market value at the peak of their performance. Furthermore, the earning potential for a college athlete can be severely limited or destroyed all together due to a debilitating injury. Athletes who project as potential NFL players may never be selected in the draft because of broken bones, torn ligaments, or severe concussions.

This paper analyzes case law and the key regulations of the current NFL draft system and proposes a new Early Draft Eligibility model that would allow underclassmen (freshman and sophomore) football players entry into the NFL draft. While the proposed system allows underclassmen players a better opportunity to capitalize on the height of their market value, this proposal also presents a multitude of new issues that must be discussed, researched, and addressed in order for the scenario to function properly. This paper will examine the resolutions and structural changes needed to implement an Early Draft Eligibility System that expands the available talent pool. …

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