NFL & NBA Draft: Allow undrafted underclassmen to return to college

Declaring early for the NBA or NFL Draft can be a bad decision. To protect the futures of those who go undrafted, let them return to school.

The NBA draft was Thursday — two months after the NFL draft. In all, 58 basketball prospects had their names called, including many who made the jump before their NCAA eligibility was exhausted.

But the vast majority of early entrants — a list that included 247 college kids — went undrafted. Many of them signed free agent contracts with NBA teams. Many others will head to the G League or overseas.

But none of them will return to college — at least as a scholarship player. Which means many of them will never graduate.

That should change. And it’s on the NCAA and the leagues to figure out a way to change it.

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Underclassmen not selected in NFL, NBA Draft should retain eligibility

Molly McManimie, an agent for Caric Sports Management who represents NFL players, laid out the case for allowing underclassmen who declare for the draft but ultimately don’t get picked to be allowed to return to college. And she did so far more eloquently than we can, so we’re just going to share her entire thread.

McManimie wrote: “I firmly believe we should let players who go undrafted go back to school. NBA & NFL. Shorten the time between end of season and the draft. Now that kids are making $$ off their NIL, we have to stop protecting the mythical purity of the game. Start protecting financial futures.

“The word ‘student’ is so important until the second they walk away. Why don’t we want to promote finishing their education instead of making them battle an uphill climb for years to come?

“Technically, a guy isn’t pro until he’s signed to a team. So deciding to put your name into a pool of names with the possibility of being chosen shouldn’t disqualify you from going back to college ball when it’s not even fully amateur anymore (and thank goodness).

“Until you’re up close and personal with the drop off between what the journey looks like for those drafted and undrafted, you don’t get how arbitrary this rule seems. I’m always going to be for these athletes getting the most options possible for healthy futures — in sport or not.”

We totally agree. The cost of going undrafted is too high to not allow these young men a chance to return to school.

MLB draft a possible model for NFL and NBA

And it’s not like this is some foreign concept. Just look to Major League Baseball’s system.

Baseball players are automatically put into the draft pool following their senior year of high school. Those who are drafted and want to sign with the team that picks them become professionals at age 18. Those who are not drafted — or aren’t pleased with where they were picked — go on to college.

Three years later (following what would be their junior year of college), they re-enter the draft pool and can be picked again.

But if they go unselected — or are not satisfied with when they went — they can return for their senior year. A year later, the process repeats itself. They then go back into the draft a third time — and will each year that follows until they sign with a team that takes him.

Baseball prospect Matt Harrington was drafted an insane five times in the early 2000s. That’s excessive, in our opinion. But there’s no reason NFL and NBA players can’t get at least one mulligan on a decision that will impact the rest of their lives.

Granted, there will be some pretty significant unintended consequences to such a dramatic shift. We are a bit conflicted on letting juniors who are actually drafted return to college, because of the harm that would do to the teams that take them.

There are 50 rounds in the baseball draft. There are only seven in the NFL.

Any conversation about allowing drafted NFL players to return to college must begin with a stipulation that teams that get stiffed by players they drafted will receive a compensatory pick of the same round the following year.

But even if the mulligan only applies to undrafted players, the NCAA would have to relax its rule prohibiting players who sign agents from returning to school. But in the Name, Image and Likeness era, hundreds of athletes have representation long before the draft is even an option.

Having someone look out for your interests shouldn’t be what determines amateur status.

Signing a contract — which is the mechanism to get paid — is what makes a player a professional. And until an undrafted free agent contract is signed, the option of returning for a fourth year of college should remain on the table.

Adam Beasley is the NFL Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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