How to Fast Track College Football Players to the NFL

By Curt Popejoy
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With all the discussion the past few days about whether or not high school football players should be allowed to go straight to the NFL and forgo college football altogether reminds me of a scenario I wrote on a couple of years ago when it was discussed about using the UFL as a minor league system for the NFL, and how absurd that was. Instead I propose that schools revamp the educational portion of a football player’s time in college to better prepare them for the NFL and expedite their move into the league.

On the surface much of the argument made perfect sense.  These young men are in essence being forced to attend college when in reality they do not want to.  But is the answer to let him simply head to the NFL? With roster limitations in the league there would be only so many players who could find their way to a roster unless they were part of the very top percentile of HS players. The whole discussion that hundreds of high school kids would declare for the NFL draft, not get drafted and then not have a way to get a college eduction is a lie. First, hundreds of kids won’t declare, at least not past the first year or so, and second, just because they cannot go to school on a football scholarship doesn’t mean they can’t get an education. A huge majority of students attend school without a football scholarship. If these young men would choose to roll the dice on the NFL and fail, that is life. Sorry if I am not sympathetic to their cause. Make better choices.

But on a happier note, I think I have a solution to the discussion and one that would satisfy all parties involved.

My idea is to allow college football players who are only attending college as a means to get to the NFL to be fast tracked.  Here’s what I mean. There would essentially be two types of student athletes.  The first would be the same as many you see now.  This is the kid who loves football, wants to play college football and while the NFL might be a dream, they are majoring in something legit, want to be in college and might actually use their degree someday.  For them nothing would change.  They could still get a football scholarship and could still end up in the NFL if they ended up good enough, but would not have been part of the fast track program.

But there is that small group, probably around ten percent of all graduating high school seniors, who have one goal in mind.  Make it to the NFL and if you have to wade through 3 years of college to get there, so be it.  This group also would be presumed to be talented enough to end up in the NFL, but understand there are no guarantees here. Lots of great high school prospects never make it to the league.

But giving a student 3 years of books, tuition, housing, meals and “misc.” has always a huge point of debate and quite frankly difficult for schools to justify while students who want to be there just as students are forced to take out student loans and sit next to the football player in class(assuming they attend) who’s getting their way paid in full.

For that small group they would follow a plan similar to what many colleges already offer for tech programs.  They cut all the fat, only give you what you need and get you out quick.  In this scenario, two years.  Their curriculum would consist of things they need.  Primarily football, but also all those other things they need.  Dealing with money, marketing, dealing with the media, things like that.  Ethics and character education would also be key and they could be allowed to “minor” in a related area like coaching or broadcasting to give them a taste of ancillary careers and fringe activities related to playing in the NFL.

This to me seems like a perfect solution.  It would cost schools much less, college football would retain it’s star power, athletes would be able to prepare for the NFL in a way that doesn’t push an education down their throats, and the NFL would get players I would argue are just as prepared to play while bringing in younger, and much more savvy and prepared for the off the field side of the game. And should they finish their two year fast track to the NFL and don’t make it, they can still attend college so the door is never really closed for them. They cannot return to play football, but they could still pursue a degree and work in their area of study.

With so much discussion about player safety and whether or not these young men are ready to play, this would be a solution that might not appeal to either side completely, but would definitely be some middle ground.  The .1 of a percent of high school players who are physically prepared to play NFL football won’t like it, but let’s be honest, even if they are physically prepared, they probably don’t have it from the shoulders up to deal with it, so the program helps them. And those who covet their favorite college football programs would argue that it hurts their product. In the cases of some smaller programs they are likely correct, but for the top teams, their depth charts are full of talent and it could end up really paying off for them as they might get playing time they wouldn’t otherwise. Along those same lines, if you know you are going to only do 2 years and done, high school players might make smarter choices for their colleges, selecting schools where they are more likely to play in those first 2 years, spreading the talent pool more evenly among schools and creating more parity in college football. This is a very good thing.

I understand this isn’t a comprehensive plan, and likely people will find holes in it.  This is just my stream of consciousness on a moment’s notice, but it’s so practical and so simple I don’t see how some form of it couldn’t work. College football and the NFL can only do so much to protect these young men from themselves. Players are always going to make bad choices about their futures in whichever system they operate in, and teams are always going to make poor choices as well.

Curt covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL draft, and college football for Rant Sports. Connect with Curt on Twitter @nfldraftboard.

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