Is “agent” about to become a not so dirty word?

You try to save a buck here and there and look what it gets you.

A minor change in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players, which was signed in 2011, is being blamed for a shift so dramatic, some within the game are fearful that college football’s talent base and recruiting system may never be the same. Put simply: Players are rushing to leave school early and go pro like never before.

This year, there will be at least 98 underclassmen available in May’s draft, a 34% increase from 2013 and an 85% increase from 2010, the year before the latest collective bargaining agreement. The average age of an NFL player last season was 26 years 308 days, the youngest since 1987.

That “minor change” doesn’t sound so minor to me.

For the first couple of decades in which underclassmen were allowed in the draft, teams spent huge sums of money on the top picks. A high draft selection thus could leave a player set for life. For instance, the top overall selection in 2010, current St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, got a six-year, $78 million contract before throwing a single pro pass. He received 13 times more guaranteed money than the second round’s top pick, teammate Rodger Saffold.

In an effort to fix the salaries of top picks—and thus prevent unproven players from getting so much money—the latest CBA called for reform. In the 2013 draft, the first pick, Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Eric Fisher, got a four-year, $22 million deal, a fraction of what Bradford received. There is also much less difference between picks. Fisher will make only double what the 15th pick in the draft makes, while the first pick in the second round received about a fourth of Fisher’s salary.

And evidently it doesn’t sound so minor to college players and agents.  Which means it doesn’t sound so minor to college coaches, either.

LSU is an unfortunate example of the new world order. It was one thing for the Tigers to lose star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to this year’s draft; those types of departures are expected. But LSU also lost redshirt sophomore guard Trai Turner, who isn’t considered a top prospect. LSU coach Les Miles couldn’t be reached for comment.

Of course, the NFL isn’t willing to shoulder any blame.

An NFL spokesman said the league “does not agree with the idea that the system is the reason players are jumping early.” The league added that the spike in early departures can’t be explained by the change in pay scale because, after the first round, the majority of rounds in the draft saw few dramatic changes in the pay scale. The NFLPA and NCAA didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Must be a coincidence, I guess.  Still, the pros are among the worried.

This makes for increasingly uneasy drafts, said Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who called this the deepest draft he has seen in 30 years of scouting. “Even though it’s the most talented group that I have seen, I am also worried that it’s probably the most immature group,” he said.

And as we all know, it’s not like there’s a minor league for NFL teams to park kids who need more time to ripen on the vine, so to speak.  What to do?  Well, ask a guy who knows what it’s like to find a place to park kids.

The situation worries Nutt, the ex-college coach, who said that in the late 2000s, a measure was floated at a Southeastern Conference coaches meeting to explore allowing players who left early to return to their teams if the draft didn’t work out. Nutt said the idea, which he agreed with, didn’t get very far.

The Nuttster was just a little bit ahead of his time there.  The proposal makes too much sense now for too many vested interests to sit in a closet for much longer.  I smell an NCAA rule change coming on.  The hard part is going to be coming up with an amateurism fig leaf to explain it away.

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22 Comments

Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

22 responses to “Is “agent” about to become a not so dirty word?

  1. hailtogeorgia

    Kwame Geathers is a prime example…guy leaves school early only to end up going undrafted. Finished with 4 tackles on the season after being picked up by the Chargers. Lord knows the Dawgs could’ve used him last year.

    The real pickle to me is what to do when kids check out in early December, mail it in on their finals, don’t make grades, don’t attend classes for an entire semester, and then are suddenly back for summer workouts. Seems like you’re opening pandora’s box.

    • Governor Milledge

      How many players actually are in spring classes when they’re prepping for pro day/draft? I’m not aware that any stay enrolled during that timeframe.

      But you’re right, keeping their grades up through the end of fall semester is important to any ‘what-if’ scenario of rejoining the team later.

  2. Maybe I’m old school, but why do the colleges have to come up with the solution for a college player that takes bad advice and jumps to the pros too early? If a player signs with an agent, he is saying that he wishes to become a professional athlete and is giving up his amateur status – end of story.

    The problem for those who leave and then want to come back is that they leave school to train for the draft and generally can’t meet the academic requirements in the meantime to regain eligibility to play.

    • Why do colleges have to come up with solution? Naked self-interest, of course.

      • Go Dawgs!

        Exactly. You think LSU wouldn’t like to have a redshirt sophomore lineman back after he inevitably falls to the fifth or sixth round of the draft? Would we not have liked to have Kwame Geathers back?

        College baseball is alive and well, thank you, even with allowing high school seniors and third-year collegiate players to enter the MLB draft provided they do not hire agents or receive compensation. So why can’t college football or college baseball players enjoy the same privilege? Because colleges were always scared that the only way to keep players was to have them in doubt about their pro chances. Well, that no longer works. So why not allow players to return to college if they aren’t pleased with their draft position just like baseball does? There’s not a single reason it would damage either football or basketball (think Mark Fox would have liked to have Thompkins and Leslie back after they fell into the second round and only briefly onto the Clippers’ bench?)

        Of course, the NFL wouldn’t like the arrangement because then they’d have to work as hard to sign draft picks as baseball has to work to sign theirs. But that isn’t the NCAA’s problem (just like one-and-done basketball players and depletion of college talent pools is not the problem of the NBA or NFL… they don’t care, so why should the NCAA care about them?)

        • Go Dawgs!

          As for the point about players leaving school to train for the draft, that’s not a necessity. College training staffs can do the work of these elite gyms where blue-chippers go to train. In fact, many draft picks train at home or at school. If you’re a player who is hedging your bets about entering the draft, you can stay on campus and use your school’s opulent strength and conditioning facility.

          • I don’t have a problem with any of your comments as long as the athlete doesn’t sign with an agent and meets his academic commitments to allow him to remain academically eligible to participate. What do you do about spring practice in this case? Player probably doesn’t want to participate and risk injury, but the staff wants to see the player on the field competing for a starting role in the fall.

            • Go Dawgs!

              I think you can work around it fairly easily. If a player is a legitimate enough NFL draft prospect to put his name in and train for combines, etc. then I’d say he’s a known commodity to the coaching staff. I’m reminded of David Pollack who they coaching staff didn’t really allow to participate in spring drills because of how disruptive he was. In any event, I guess someone could conceivably come in and move past a draft prospect on the depth chart in spring, but if the guy didn’t get the draft spot he wanted he’d probably be able to get his spot back in the summer. I think spring drills are more useful for younger/more inexperienced players anyway, though it’s certainly useful to build chemistry with the veterans.

  3. I’m a bit confused about the Senator’s position on this. I’m not confused about the righteous indignation, but I am confused about the object of such. What exactly are we dissatisfied with? A very few college athletes that have the capability to profit from their athletic ability (as a percentage of total college athletes) don’t get paid, and don’t make money from their signatures, pictures, etc. Most would never have that opportunity – golfers, gymnasts, swimmers, volleyballers, etc. They all have the same type of obligations to their respective sports. The 5am swims for the swim team don’t seem particularly fun, for example.

    And most college athletes are involved in college sports because they love the game and they get a free education. The free education part invariably is devalued by the staunch advocates of college pay-for-play. The lacrosse players, swim teamers, and gymnasts certainly recognize the fact that they aren’t there for the post-graduate professional sports opportunities. They play the game and put in the time for the love of the game and the free education. It is, despite the arguments to the contrary, a very big deal not to have student loans.

    But below we see the article about Mark Cuban having the audacity to suggest that the one-and-done model for college basketball is a farce, so that the NBA should just have a developmental league that offers educational opportunities. So what? He is pointing out that a sub-segment of college basketball players could care less about school and are just waiting for their pro-basketball career to start. Why should those players participate in the farce?

    What exactly is your position, Senator?

    I see the merit of both sides. I don’t want to see college football devolve into a purely professional league. I think it would be the absolute death of the game. But on the other hand, I do think college athletes that can’t afford an acceptable standard of living should receive some type of additional financial aid. I don’t think that additional aid should only go to the stars.

    Sure, the schools profit from football and basketball. Is your solution to pay all the players? Is it a set salary for all players? Or only the good ones? What about small schools? Is Bama allowed to outbid the world for the best running back? Then is your argument that a set salary is hypocritical?

    My last thought is that the problem is that we have a pretty clear line in the sand. It is either a professional sport, or it isn’t. If it is, I think it loses its value and has a lot of negative consequences.

    • DawgPhan

      tldr.

      his position is the self interested hidden behind “do it for the kids” arguments….not to speak for him, he is more than capable, but that is what I have gathered from reading his musings.

    • Mark Cuban is FOS. Not for suggesting the one-and-done model is a farce, but for suggesting that the pros bear no responsibility for it. The honest thing would be to advocate for the NBA to do away with the ban on drafting kids out of high school, but then Cuban would be losing one-year access to the same cheap talent he slags the colleges for.

      As for this post, all I’m arguing is that if the talent drain in football continues to accelerate, look for the colleges to react by backing off on the agent contact rules so that kids don’t risk their collegiate eligibility in a fruitless attempt to sign with the NFL. Not because the schools give a shit about the kids here, but because it’s in their own selfish interest to slow down the trend.

      • Go Dawgs!

        Cuban’s FOS if he thinks the colleges have even a modicum of control over the one-and-done issue. Now, the schools could spot-check the hell out of the blue-chippers and put in all sorts of rules that would require them to be in class and pursuing course work during the spring (tournament) semester. In reality, all that does is increase the requirement for a kid from one semester of work to two. Big. Freaking. Deal.

        If the NBA is so upset over one-and-done, then drop the ban on high schoolers or increase the number of years a player has to be out of high school before they can be drafted. That’s the only way to stop one-and-done.

  4. ASEF

    CBB has been dealing with the same issue for awhile – but the NBA only drafts 64 players, and only 32 of those are guaranteed. The NFL draft is something differently entirely. But, I doubt the NCAA does anything other than let the ones who make bad decisions perform as scarecrows for those underclassmen who come after.

  5. For the NFL to say their new policy doesn’t have any bearing is a huge lie. I’ve seen it from many sportswriters, and you know the kids are thinking the exact same thing……..the NFL has become a 2nd contract league. The thinking goes that it’s better to be a 5th round pick this year and go ahead and start proving myself, rather than stick around another year in college in and try to get in the 2nd or 3rd round a year later. Getting to that 2nd contract a year earlier is potentially worth huge dollars. The NFL trying to deny this consequence, though unintended, is very disingenuous.

    Like several people above have already mentioned though, I have a hard time seeing how they will ever pass a rule that you can come back if you don’t like your draft results, purely due to the timing of the NFL draft. They miss an entire semester of school so don’t have nearly enough credits to be eligible the following fall. I just don’t see a way to reconcile that to recover eligibility.

    I know at one point you could do that in the NBA, but again it was a timing issue with the draft. The players had already gone through spring semester (because the season straddles both semesters), so their hours are intact. The only thing they miss is maybe the first session of summer school, which in most cases won’t be enough to make them academically ineligible.

    • Just found this link, and I think it’s helpful to the discussion.

      http://www.desu.edu/sites/default/files/NCAA%20ACADEMIC%20REQUIREMENTS%20AT%20A%20GLANCE%20072811r1.pdf

      The part that would have to be reconciled is that currently athletes must have completed at least 18 credit hours between the fall and spring semesters, with at least 6 in each semester (in other words, you can’t load up with 18 hours in the fall, take none in the spring, and still be eligible. At least 6 hours would have to be completed in the spring.

      • Rules can be changed. That’s what enlightened self-interest is all about. ;)

        • Oh I agree, it just seems like you’d almost have to one set of eligibility rules for those that entered the draft, and another set for those who didn’t. I guess that’s where I don’t see it happening, having 2 different sets of eligibility rules. Otherwise you could have guys do like I said before – load up in the fall, and literally do nothing in the spring, and that would chap too many hides. But if you do try to put in 2 different sets of eligibility rules, that’s gonna chap a whole different set of hides. Just seems like a road even the NCAA wouldn’t choose to go down. But I guess I should have learned by now to never underestimate the NCAA’s lack of judgment.

  6. AusDawg85

    Where would you put a kid that doesn’t like/get drafted by the NFL back on the college roster? Signing day is long past and all the spaces are full (or even over-subscribed). Does he have to go back to his own school, or is he now free to shop around?

    • Good call, I hadn’t even thought of it from a roster standpoint. Entirely possible that all 85 spots would be full by then. Unless the NCAA put in an exemption to be able to go over 85 in those situations. Would just just be a hot mess on so many levels, again I have a hard time seeing that it would ever come to pass.

  7. Mark

    If the fig leaf fits…. You cracked me up with the fig leaf line. Doesn’t basketball already allow kids that declare for the draft to come back so long as they don’t sign with an agent? (Maybe there’s some other qualification for returning but I don’t know what it is.)

    • IIRC, to come back in CBB a kid has to not sign with/take any money from an agent; and also not be drafted. Randolph Morris from UK did this a few years ago. Didn’t get drafted, came back to school, UK either didn’t make the NCAAs or got bounced early, and he signed a free-agent deal with the Knicks within the next week.

      As far as kids missing spring practice or academic eligibility requirements, I got nothing.

      Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this self-correct (10% or so, anyway) over the next few years if a decent number of these kids don’t get drafted and/or don’t make rosters. If you’re not on a contract, you’re not getting years of service, correct?

      • mp

        They’ve changed the rules such that players who declare and don’t sign with an agent actually need to come back well before the draft…end of Apriil or early May or sometime like that. The old “undrafted” rule gave players too much freedom/control and made it too tough for coaches to manage their signing classes, so they killed it, of course.