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Out of the many athletic organizations in America, none has come under more scrutiny recently than the National Collegiate Athletic Association, specifically in football. From the cancellation of EA Sports’ critically acclaimed NCAA Football video game series, to the recent unionization of the Northwestern University players, the NCAA has come under fire for dozens of topics and is in need of a serious fix.
Should athletes be required to stay in college a minimum amount of time before being allowed to go professional? Are athletes compensated enough for their services? How do we fix these problems while making everyone happy? While there is no one perfect solution, we can’t deny that something does need to be done.
Short of athlete pay, one of the hottest topics today is the required time football players need to spend in the NCAA before being eligible for the NFL Draft. Should the time be shortened to accommodate the high-talent players, or should it be extended to emphasize going to college for an education? While most people concentrate on what the NCAA should do, I believe the real concern should revolve around the monopoly that the NCAA holds on the path to the NFL. Imagine a second major option for football players, rather than forcing them into a system that is being called broken by many.
To this end, let’s take a look at another top league in the U.S., Major League Baseball. Baseball players are eligible for the MLB Draft as long as they have completed high school, and not yet attended college, junior college or signed with a professional team previously (after attending a college, athletes must be at least 21 years old to qualify). Yes, football is a completely different game than baseball and requires a different type of preparation and maturity, but we can still take a lesson from this structure and apply it where needed.
While the NFL does not specifically state college is required, it seems to be an unwritten rule, and appears to be the only viable option for talent to reach the NFL. Whose right is it to tell a high-profile high school football player that he needs to attend college for three years?
While the NCAA does provide a great rung on the ladder to the NFL from coaching and development, if an athlete wants to be seriously compensated for his play and not risk injury, college does not seem to be the best choice. Playing abroad is not really an option either, due to the lack of competition in leagues outside of the country. The Arena Football League does not require time spent in football outside of high school, but has the same perceived issue as playing abroad. What would it take to get players to choose to play professionally out of high school instead of picking college?
While going to college is obviously a good choice for high school students in general, and should be encouraged, it should be noted that athletes choose colleges that allow them to play for them, not the other way around. Is the rising awareness and stardom of high school players giving them too much perceived power? Athletes should be aware when they enroll in college what they are doing, that the school they are playing for has allowed them to come play for them, while often giving them a free education. If a player feels he should be paid for his play and doesn’t want to be held down by the NCAA’s rules and regulations, why not try playing elsewhere?
Would a minor league system make sense? Adding an entire minor league system to the NFL would take quite a large effort, building stadiums, hiring coaches, setting rules, and much more. While it seems impractical looking up at the long road that would be creating this system similar to MLB’s, it could be the best option for athletes. One would imagine that a player like Jameis Winston would draw a crowd, even on some type of minor league team.
With the addition of a minor league system comes a loss of talent for the NCAA and eventually a loss of profits for universities. Imagine how much money a school such as Texas A&M would have lost out on without having Johnny Manziel there the past two seasons. With the addition of a second option for these high-profile athletes to be drafted by franchises and placed in a developmental league, this would require a balance on the other side of the table.
An increase in time required at school would be the obvious decision. According to the NCAA only 1.7% of football players end up playing professionally, meaning the remaining 98.3% would benefit from a college degree by the end of their time in school if they wish to have a successful life after football.
If you attend a college to play football you must remember that you are there on their grace and dollar. Yes, colleges profit off of these athletes but in the end it was the athlete’s decision to attend college to play football, and he signed up to be placed under all NCAA rules and regulations. Would allowing high school athletes to be drafted into a minor league and increasing college commitment requirements be the best option? Should athletes just get paid by the colleges they play for? What would it take to start a movement of talented high school players choosing other paths to the NFL rather than the NCAA? Or is the system we currently have enough?
Let us know what you think would be best in the comments below.