The NFL is at it again, sort of. It’s being reported that the league is having conversations about the notion that draft eligible players who have declared would be held out of the NFL Draft scouting combine if it is discovered that they would be academically ineligible. This is yet another half-hearted attempt by the NFL to display concern for the players while only wanting to protect their own multi-billion dollar industry.
This isn’t the first time the NFL has attempted to piggy back on the faux amateurism of college football, but it might be the most transparent and rakish of attempts thus far. But even more than that, it’s misguided and actually would be counter intuitive to what the key purpose of the scouting combine is. The scouting combine isn’t about big guys running around in their underwear; it’s about personnel evaluation. Like one big job interview. The input that franchises get from interviews and testing of prospects helps guide them in their selection process. Removing that group from that evaluation process makes them more of a mystery to a potential employer and forces the team to go to greater individual expenses if they want to delve further into the psyche of these young men.
But beyond the fact that it would actually hurt the evaluation process rather than help it, there is a side of this I take even greater umbrage with. It’s the contention that there is some sort of correlation between maturity and academic performance. Let me take off my draft analyst hat for a moment and put my teacher hat on as I continue. It’s laughable that the league can assume that a student who fails some classes in their final semester before entering into their dream career means they must lack the requisite maturity for the position and therefore should be excluded from a portion of the process. In my years of teaching, if I had used this same sort of thinking to exclude students from instruction based on the same criteria, I would have been fired.
I understand that the league is in dire need of some positive PR, but this is not how they get it. If a college team wants to exclude a player from its own pro day, I have no qualms with that. But I have no interest in further spillover between college football and the NFL. It’s all far too disingenuous for me and is done at the expense of players who could very much benefit from the entire process. Not to mention, they are still likely to be drafted by NFL teams.
No one would argue that many players enter the league with maturity issues and poor judgment. We see it year after year as grown men do some really stupid things, and we as fans to sit back and just shake our heads in disbelief. But NFL teams look at talent first and decide if the talent outweighs the risk of possible problems. All teams calculate the risk/reward of taking a player with potential problems, and like it or not, most times talent is going to win out.
The reality is no team is going to pass on a top prospect simply based on the criteria of poor grades. And should this become a reality, does anyone really think this is going to make a top prospect study harder for that spring World History exam while they are training for their pro day? People really can’t be that naïve, can they? Either way, I don’t expect this to really happen because in the end, the billion dollar powerhouse that is the NFL is powered by its product, and that means on Sundays the best players step on the field and convince fans to spend a lot of money. As long as that’s happening, the league is going to look the other way for plenty in hopes finding the next great player, and if it means doing some babysitting along the way, so be it.