Top Coaches Say Association’s NFL Draft Rule Change Good for Players

The decision by the American Football Coaches Association to allow underclassmen to take part in pro-day combines has major supporters in Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney—the two head coaches in last night's bowl championship game.

As this year’s college bowl season ends and National Football League scouts plan for the next crop of draft-eligible players, those scouts are going to get a sneak peek at the underclassmen, too.

That’s because of a policy change approved by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and backed by both the NFL and the college coaches who competed in last night’s bowl championship game. (Clemson won, by the way, 35-31.)

In fact, it was apparently Alabama coach Nick Saban’s idea to allow select players who aren’t heading to the NFL Draft to take part in pro-day workouts. According to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, the Crimson Tide coach organized a conference call among some of the country’s top college coaches, which eventually led to AFCA’s deal with the league, announced in September.

The issue was that many players were receiving poor information about their post-college prospects, which led the young men to make decisions that turned out not to be in their best interests.

“The philosophy here is, the more information the NFL can get on players, the more accurate they can be in evaluations. Some players are trying to make a business decision after three years in school,” Saban explained to NFL.com. He added that the prior system “makes it difficult for us to give the players the right information” about their chances in the draft.

Swinney, whose Clemson Tigers trounced Ohio State on the way to the College Football Playoff title game, concurred with Saban, who is perhaps the most successful college football coach in modern times.

“It was frustrating when you have a young man that gets a second-round grade and he doesn’t get drafted, or it’s frustrating when you have a guy that gets a seventh-round grade and comes out and goes in the second round,” Swinney said, according to The Associated Press. “The consistency in the evaluation was an area of concern for us as coaches.”

The deal between AFCA and the league will allow at least five underclassmen to take part in the pro days, though more may be allowed with approval.

The plan could also encourage underclassmen to stay in school a bit longer. In 2015, a record 98 underclassmen entered the draft. That number decreased last year and could fall further with the new rules.

“[O]nce you enter the draft, you can’t improve your draft status,” Saban explained to the AP. “But if you stay in college you can improve your draft status dramatically.“

Alabama's Nick Saban, left, and Clemson's Dabo Swinney. (Lloyd Gallman/Montgomery Advertiser/Flickr, Parker Anderson/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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