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The MLB Draft shows the hypocrisy of the NFL's collusion with college football

Welcome to The Crootletter (sign up to get this in your inbox every morning!). I'm Bud Elliott, SB Nation's National Recruiting Analyst, and in this space I'll be sharing news, rumors and musings on the world of college football recruiting.

2014 MLB Draft

I follow scouting and draft info for other sports, to try to get better at my job. It helps to make me more well-rounded as an evaluator, and I often adapt content ideas from other leagues.

But there is a downside: it constantly reminds me of how unfair the football system is compared to other sports. That's due to the NFL's de facto compulsory education requirement, which makes kids less than three years out of high school ineligible for the NFL.

The NFL makes out like a bandit because it does not have to support a minor league system. Compare baseball or hockey or, to a lesser extent, basketball. Its system makes colleges bear the costs of talent development, which the colleges are fine with, since they still make a killing by not paying their labor pool.

But this artificial barrier to market entry is unfair to people whose favored skill sets are more about football than classwork.

Being able to pass college courses is not an essential part of an NFL player's job.

The NFL has argued that its age requirement protects undeveloped bodies from the pro game's physicality. But this is a non-starter. It implies NFL teams would draft young players who are not physically ready in such numbers that it would hurt the quality of play.

The NFL benefits in other ways, by getting to judge a player's level of discipline based on classes administered by a college. It also helps minimize the NFL's exposure to dumb decisions made by people whose brains are not yet fully developed.

But what about kids who have immense football talent but simply aren't cut out for college? If they fail to qualify academically out of high school or fail to stay eligible in college, their football futures may be dashed due to something that has nothing to do with football. It's bullshit. We see it happen every year. This week, it happened to Texas defensive lineman Kendell Jones, who didn't qualify at Alabama.

The MLB draft, which begins Thursday night, helps to underscore the hypocrisy. Players are eligible right out of high school.

I read this MLB Draft preview. And this one. And this one. Here's how often the following words appeared:

  • Academics: 0
  • Grades: 0
  • Qualify: 0
  • Test score: 0

Why? Because those things have little to nothing to do with playing professional baseball, and baseball does not give a damn because it has maintained minor leagues for more than half a century.

In baseball, players are drafted out of high school. If they don't like their draft position, they can choose to go to a university (where they must stay three years) or to a junior college (from which they are immediately eligible to be drafted again).

And it's not just the draft.

I've never heard or read a single word about academics when MLB teams sign 16-year-old, international free agents who have spent much of their lives in a baseball academy.

International players can be signed super young (because they are not subject to the MLB Draft). Ditto the international soccer market, which sees players as young as 10 funneled into club developmental academies.

Outside the world of sports, do you ever hear people citing a lack of education when discussing actors or artists?

All can begin making a living with their elite talent at an early age. But not football players. They must give away three of their most valuable working years for pennies and college courses.

Additionally, the barrier to entry creates visible academic failures, which helps feed the stereotype that football players are not intelligent. In fact, it stands to reason that the NFL has the highest percentage of college graduates among the four major sports. That doesn't mean college diplomas are essential to football, just that football players are clearly at least as smart as other athletes. For reference, fewer than 5 percent of MLB players in 2012 held a college degree.

The people who lose the most in this arrangement are the best football players.

No, NFL teams would not carry 12 18-year olds on their 55-man rosters, but they would absolutely carry a couple who have immense upside. Pro teams would want to have Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook at 18, rather than getting them after they put 600 carries on their legs in college. I think it would apply to non-running backs, too, like defensive backs Iman Marshall or Derwin James, who could be special teams standouts immediately until they were good enough to start.

Without a minor league system, most NFL teams would not want to touch younger players. But Jason La Canfora of CBS reports the temperature on some sort of minor league system may be changing as new practice regulations have impacted the quality of play.

"This is the future of football," [NFL vice president of football operations Troy] Vincent said of the need for a developmental cradle for players and team personnel. "These are defining issues for the league. This is the future of football. We're talking about human capital development. How do we cultivate these assets -- on the field and off the field?"

The hypocrisy that is (1) complaining about the job colleges do developing players, while (2) enforcing compulsory education as a barrier to entry? It sounds like it may some day be changed.

We initially published this post on Thursday. On Friday, it was a topic in our Facebook Live chat:

Bravo, Rivals

Jackson (TN) offensive tackle recruit Trey Smith has been rocketing up boards of late and may be the best player in the country. But I applaud Mike Farrell of Rivals for his explanation of why Rivals has not yet bumped his ranking to that level.

So why is he a four-star on Rivals who isn’t in our Rivals250?

I’ll admit we are being cautious here and want to see more of Smith for a few reasons.

His junior film is awesome -- he’s pancaking everything that moves and hits the second level like a running back. However, he plays for a D2 school in Tennessee and the kids he’s pile-driving aren’t close to elite athletes.

And Smith is listed anywhere from 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-4, depending on the site. He doesn’t look as tall or long levered as the former measurement on film.


Smith looks like a million bucks on film and perhaps our concern over his competition level will make us look slow on this one. I know Ole Miss and Tennessee fans think so.

I think his current ranking is likely his floor and his ceiling is very, very high, but we will see how he does this summer and into next season before we make our judgement.

I think Rivals will eventually rate Smith as one of the best in the country, but I applaud them for taking the hit and not bumping him before they've seen him in person. Early rankings are problematic for a number of reasons, but avoiding pressure of the echo chamber helps make them better.


USC landed Brett Neilon, one of the best center recruits in the country Wednesday.

Some high schools with connections to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan football will travel hundreds of miles to play a game at the Big House. Smart.

TCU landed a pair of talented commitments.