Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema wants the NCAA to let college football players return to school if they've left it early for the NFL Draft and then not gotten picked, he said this week.
One of Bielema's players, guard Denver Kirkland, left Fayetteville with eligibility remaining to enter this year's draft. Kirkland was one of 30 underclassmen who didn't get drafted, and it seems his former coach doesn't want that to happen again.
On SportsTalk with Bo Mattingly, Bielema outlined his thought, via Coaching Search:
"I haven't touched base with Gus (Malzahn) yet, but he had two that didn't get drafted. Dan (Mullen) did as well. Ohio State had a couple," Bielema said. "Those coaches, I'm reaching out to them and trying to put together some collective thoughts on how to approach it. Now, some kids maybe had to move on for academic reasons or personal or their own story. But if you have a guy like Denver who's on progression to graduate, is doing the right things and needs another year (can we change something?)"
It sounds sensible, although switching between what the NCAA calls "amateurism" and the professional meat grinder of the draft could be hard to pull off. One pitfall, though: What does Bielema propose to do about drafted players who might go lower than projections and could also benefit from returning to college? Are they out of luck?
Bielema considered it, citing some former players of his as examples.
"Alex (Collins) could be in the same category. I'm glad he got taken, but I know he was planning on the third or second round (instead of the fifth). That's millions. Remember Darius Philon? He goes in the middle of the sixth round (last year). If he came back and played for us last year, he probably would have been a second-rounder and possibly a first-rounder, the way those D-tackles were going off the board. He's probably lost, between last year's draft and this year's draft, somewhere between $10-14 million that he will never, ever see again. It's insane."
The NBA has something sort of like this, although it doesn't go as far as what Bielema is suggesting. Starting this year, the NCAA lets underclassmen who haven't hired agents keep their college eligibility intact all the way through the league scouting combine, which happens about a month before the June draft itself. Ten days after that, they have to decide if they'll go back to school or stay in the draft. They can't go all the way through the event or hire representation.
To some extent, this isn't as big an issue as it might seem. It's easy to assume that any player who leaves school early to not get drafted would regret it, but there's a whole host of reasons someone might leave for the NFL even if he's not a great professional prospect. For a lot of the players who go undrafted or get picked late and then wind up being cut, going back to campus isn't a good option, anyway. The scope of players such a rule change would help is probably not large, even out of the 30 underclass players in this year's draft who didn't get picked.
But that doesn't mean it couldn't be helpful to some. The application of a rule like this could be challenging, but if it helps even one or two players per draft cycle, it's probably worthwhile to have the sport's powers that be look into it. Bielema's idea could help players, and it's hard to see any way it would hurt them.