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The NFL considers adopting a stupid NCAA idea

The title of this article is redundant.

NCAA president Mark Emmert and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
NCAA president Mark Emmert and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
Robert Deutsch, USA Today

It is just a proposal: the NFL might not invite academically ineligible college football players to the NFL Combine.

This would thus give Roger Goodell and the NFL another opportunity to conjoin the NFL's quilt of arbitrary virtue with the NCAA's tattered hobo blanket of student-athlete bylaws. It is merely a rumored proposal, and like a realistic NFL concussion policy or the cash value of players on college rosters, is just theoretical. It's nothing to get too upset over.

That said, it is a stupid idea, and stupid ideas deserve their time on the rack. If the NFL commissioner is being cynically virtuous, it is his latest hollow gesture in a long series of them. Goodell's long series of flailing shield-protections includes upholding Terrelle Pryor's five game suspension for receiving free tattoos at Ohio State, the boondoggle of Bountygate with the Saints, and the downright Orwellian PSAs for the NFL's safety campaign. These are all gestures simply improvised from the desk of the CEO because ... well, feeling right should count for something, even if you happen to be improvising in the name of public theater and PR mandates.

The stupid goes marrow-deep.

And if it's not merely a hollow gesture, and the NFL actually implements this?

Then the stupid goes marrow-deep, and with comical implications for how the NFL does business. Athletes could simply have their own pro days, dazzle scouts, and skip the hassle of the Combine altogether while still securing their draft picks and contracts. With the Combine becoming a maelstrom of overspeculation and insane amateur psychoanalysis by the league's scouting apparatus, this might be a better outcome for some, particularly those who lose draft value in the firestorm of rumors and hot stove talk following the event.

Tying the Combine to academic eligibility would also create even more pressure for college administrators and faculty to commit academic fraud. For the amateurism-agnostic, this is no problem: we already assume this happens, and that athletes are in many cases being passed through classes on a cushion of multiple-choice quizzes and facile coursework. If you are one of the diehard believers in the warrior-poet linebacker, however, it should bother you. Professors and TAs will have the athletic department at their doors more often than they do now. In most of those cases, professors and TAs lose, and lose badly.

It certainly feels nice, though. It feels especially nice if you enjoy a staggeringly naive vision of paternalistic college football man-molders handing finished products over to the NFL for use in the arena of life. This is possible only if you consider the NCAA and amateurism to be anything close to a legitimate business and an equal partner with the NFL on any front.

It is not. Consider this very real horror: in this scenario, the NFL is the moral superior here. It has the decency to pay its players honest wages and provide something like adequate compensation for playing a brutal contact sport in service of a brand and its television contracts. They may be cartelistas and oligarchs, but at the end of the day even an oligarchy like the NFL has to write a few checks.*

*They're not happy about it and fight it at every step, but their credit outlook is excellent. Unlike some people's.

The NCAA doesn't even have to do that. It champions -- one may even say "cheerleads" -- an antiquated model of 1950s amateurism to funnel 2013-scale profits towards a thin sliver of nominally profitable teams. You don't want to touch either the NFL or college football with the longest of poles unless you have to, but at least the NFL can be handled with a stout pair of tongs and a few lead aprons. The NCAA reeks at any distance and requires a HazMat team of lawyers, pseudo-attorneys, and PR flacks just to achieve something like survivable levels of toxicity.

At least Roger Goodell has the dignity to just openly make things up as he goes. The NCAA would like you to believe there is an order to this and a series of rules akin to law governing its members' behavior. There is not. They are making it up as they go, and with the primary goal of keeping money out of amateur players' hands for the benefit of member schools. Everything else, save for the survival of the organization itself, is secondary.

There is good news here. You may now provide whatever spreads you like for bagels, provided those spreads are not a gel form of American currency. Further good news: a well-compensated despot isn't likely to adopt any more rules than he has to and will simply ignore them when it goes against his interests. Roger Goodell will do what is good for the league's owners. Those owners could care less whether someone skipped classes so long as they can play professional football and promise not to kill anyone while they cash their paychecks.

The bad news? The NFL, at least for an instant, thought about moving closer towards enforcing the NCAA's rules for amateurism.

On a tangentially related note, one player who probably would have been eligible for the Combine under these rules? Aaron Hernandez, a 2007 SEC Academic Honor Roll member whose issues never included his classroom standing.

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