Longer timetable to declare would help underclassmen, NFL
Underclassmen face more draft deadline pressure than their hoops counterparts
With a longer season and bowl slate, it might be time to push back the deadline
The current system hurts players, but it's cleaner for the schools and the NCAA
During the week leading up to Pittsburgh's Nov. 28 home finale against West Virginia, LeSean McCoy delighted Panthers fans by announcing he had no intentions of leaving for the NFL after the season.
"I'm talented, but right now I'm in school and I'm looking to stay here," said the sophomore, who because he spent a year in prep school, was eligible for the 2009 draft. "...We're going to be loaded next year. I'm kind of anxious to see where they rank us next year at the beginning of the season."
McCoy reiterated much the same sentiment when asked about his plans during before Pittsburgh's Dec. 31 Sun Bowl game. On the flight back from El Paso, coach Dave Wannstedt sat with McCoy and talked mostly about offseason conditioning and the 2009 season.
Then, McCoy returned home to Harrisburg, Pa., to spend the rest of winter break with his family. "That's when everything kind of turned upside down," said Wannstedt.
Last Thursday, two family sources told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review that McCoy planned to turn pro. They said his evaluation from the NFL's Draft Advisory Board had rated him a first-round pick. An announcement would come the following day.
Wannstedt, an NFL coach for 16 years, had talked to his own league sources. They were projecting that the running back would go somewhere between the late-first round and the middle of the second. On Friday, McCoy, his parents and his brother LeRon, a former NFL receiver, met with Wannstedt in his office, after which the player opted to delay his decision. On Monday, school officials were prepared to announce his departure, but once again, McCoy said he needed more time.
LeRon told the Tribune Review his brother was "overwhelmed by the gravity of the decision."
Finally, on Wednesday, McCoy made it official, but it was clear he was genuinely torn between his desire to play another season for the Panthers ("[College] is fun. That's the real world, once you get in the league," he said in November) and the potentially lucrative financial opportunity in front of him (and the potential risk of injury if he returned).
All the while, he was up against a clock, forced to make his decision by Thursday's NFL deadline. With a regular season that did not end until Dec. 6, finals, pre-bowl practices and a week in El Paso, McCoy only had about two weeks to truly concentrate on the draft.
"It's a lot to process in a short amount of time, and with a lot of different people talking to you," Wannstedt said.
McCoy is just one of many underclassmen who faced such pressure the past few weeks.
Consider Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman winner Sam Bradford, who played in the Big 12 championship game Dec. 6, spent the following week on a whirlwind awards-show tour, returned to Norman to begin practices for the BCS Championship Game against Florida, left for South Florida on Jan. 2 and faced the Gators on Jan. 8. That left him less than a week to make a potentially life-altering decision to pass up a chance -- though hardly a guaranteed one -- at becoming the No. 1 overall pick (and the roughly $30 million guaranteed money that goes with it) or return to Oklahoma for another year of seasoning.
On Wednesday, he opted to come back.
"I really didn't put much thought into it before the national championship game," Bradford said, "so there was a lot of information to comprehend, especially in a short amount of time."
Football players face a substantially tighter timetable than their basketball counterparts when it comes to deciding whether to turn pro. The Final Four is usually held the first weekend of April, and the deadline to declare for the draft doesn't come until May 1. Even then, if a player does not sign with an agent, he can work out for NBA teams (at his own expense) and, if it turns out his stock isn't as high as he thought it might be, can opt out of the draft as late as 10 days before the event.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the Jan. 15 deadline, which has been in place for years, was set because it's "after the bowl games and before the [mid-February] combine." Teams need time to research them prior to the combine.
However, the college regular season has since been extended by a week (in some cases, two weeks), and bowl games are now played as late as a week after New Year's Day. Might it be time to consider pushing back the deadline?