Draft declaration pressure too great for underclassmen (cont.)
"I am not aware of any consensus to change the date," said Aiello.
College coaches interviewed for this story said pushing back the date to, say, Jan. 31 would benefit the players and hardly affect the NFL. And they concede there would be far less pressure on the players if, like their basketball peers, they could test the draft waters but still return to school.
"I wish they could have, like the NBA, where as long as the kid doesn't commit to an agent, he could withdraw his name," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "They have to declare by Jan. 15. That's a lot of pressure in a short period of time."
That, however, seems impractical. Most schools begin their winter semester by Jan. 15, and in this day and age, most draft prospects head to training academies to prepare for the combine. Most sign with an agent once they declare for the draft. It would be hard for a player to test the draft waters and still remain eligible for the following season.
"[The current arrangement] might not be best for the kid in terms of having time to think this major decision through," said Wannstedt, "but it's a lot cleaner for the school and the NCAA."
In 2002, the NCAA passed legislation that allows football players to retain eligibility if he withdraws his name "within 72 hours following [the Jan. 15] draft declaration date." Clemson running back James Davis, among others, took advantage of this rule last season.
However, in explaining its rationale behind the legislation, the NCAA shined light on another reason why it's not as feasible to allow football prospects to follow the same timetable as basketball prospects.
"This proposal addresses the Football Coaches Association's concern about student-athletes missing spring football practice, and a coach's ability to effectively prepare for the following football season," wrote the legislators. They also stressed the importance of coaches knowing how many scholarships they have to fill prior to Signing Day, which is the first Wednesday in February.
Because of the compressed timetable, it becomes that much more imperative for coaches to be able to provide accurate feedback to their players as early as possible following the conclusion of the season.
On the day before the Jan. 3 International Bowl, Edsall met with junior tailback Donald Brown and his family in the coach's Toronto hotel room -- and they weren't going over the game plan for Buffalo. Brown had just gotten back his evaluation from the advisory board (Edsall declined to reveal what it said), and Edsall, who spent four seasons as an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, shared feedback he'd received from his NFL contacts.
Brown ran for a career-high 261 yards in the bowl game, then told Edsall on the field after the game that he had decided to turn pro, and the two announced it at a postgame press conference.
"I believe kids, in their mind, pretty much know what they're going to do regardless of the information," said Edsall.
If true, that's unfortunate, because a player who turns pro too early risks costing himself millions of dollars and potentially jeopardizing his NFL career. Unlike the NBA, NFL contracts are not guaranteed (with the exception of signing bonuses), and the length and salary drops drastically both within the first round and once you get into later rounds.
With the exception of a small handful of elite prospects, most players' ultimate draft position can change dramatically from the time of their initial evaluation. That can depend on the results of their combine and/or private workouts, the strength and depth of prospects at their position and the respective needs of NFL teams.
Former Penn State cornerback Justin King, who left school last year after his junior season, told the Tribune-Review he received a first-round grade from the draft advisory board but was also told he could go as late as the fourth round. He did in fact slip to the fourth round, receiving a three-year, $1.5 million contract from the St. Louis Rams, a little over half of it guaranteed. By contrast, South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins, who went late in the first round (No. 25) to Dallas, signed a five-year, $9.7 million deal, $6.75 million of it guaranteed.
"Every time you improve five spots, eight spots, 10 spots, a round, you make three or four times your money," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "You want to be able to take care of your family -- that second- and third-round money, you're going to be able to take care of yourself, and that's it."
If McCoy does in fact go late in the first round, as projected, he could receive a contract similar to former Illinois star Rashard Mendenhall, a junior whom the Steelers selected with the 23rd pick last season and gave a five-year, $12.5 million deal, including $7.1 million guaranteed. However, McCoy will be competing with the likes of Brown, Iowa's Shonn Greene, Ohio State's Beanie Wells, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and others. If he does slip to the second round, his rookie contract might compare more closely to former Rutgers star Ray Rice's, a junior who went 55th last year to the Baltimore Ravens and signed a four-year, $2.8 million deal.
Only two other running backs were selected between Mendenhall and Rice -- but that was enough to cost Rice nearly $10 million. It's easy to see why McCoy was so conflicted.
"Whoever's closest to the kid has the best opportunity to influence him," said Wannstedt. "Oftentimes their family members are getting information that's not valid. Agents are hanging around hotels where the teams are staying. It's pretty impressive to the kid, to the family when [agents] talk about some of the people they represent, how much money they have. Once a kid starts thinking [of turning pro], once the family starts thinking that way, it becomes very difficult to tell them, 'These are the facts. You're not necessarily going to make that much money.'"
Perhaps if they had more time to digest the facts -- or more important, had a chance to find out first-hand where they stood following the combine -- players could make more informed decisions. As it is, lives are forever changed on no more than a couple of weeks of consideration ... if that.