Michigan Wolverines head football coach Jim Harbaugh is about as old-school as you can get. This week, however, he came out with how the NCAA should address the new California law which would allow student-athletes to make money while still in school. The idea Harbaugh came up with is painfully simple, would allow college football players to maintain their amateur status, but doesn’t address a safety issue that the NFL has had for years.
Speaking on Monday, here is what Jim Harbaugh’s plan is for how the NCAA should react to the new “Fair Pay for Play” law in California which is set to go into effect in January, 2023:
The fair thing to do would be not to restrict players to have to stay in college for three years. They could turn pro at any point. I would also make a rule if they weren’t drafted, they could return to college. I think they could also be very productive if someone were to leave after their freshman or sophomore or junior year. They hadn’t finished their degree, they would have the ability within a certain time span to come back and to finish their degree.”
Harbaugh added, “There’s a restricted nature to something you have to be a college football player for three years before you’re eligible to be drafted. Give an opportunity for someone to be a professional football player at 20 or 21. It’s not a long time. There’s a window to be a professional football player. If somebody’s good enough to do that and can return and finish their college degree.”
It should be noted that it is the NFL, not the NCAA, that requires players to be three years removed from their high school graduation before becoming eligible for the league’s draft. The stated reason for this collectively bargained rule is safety, because there is a concern that having an 18 or 19-year-old on the field with fully physically developed players who are five or more years older could lead to serious injuries to that teenage player. American-born baseball players can be drafted out of high school, however, once they enter college, must commit for three years; while basketball players must be one year removed from their high school graduation before being NBA draft eligible, something that is also a collectively bargained rule with the league’s player union.
It is likely that, if not for the safety issue, the NFL would have the same one-and-done rule that the NBA has; because letting college football or basketball serve as a free minor league system as well as a free marketing company is why both league enjoy having the NCAA around. It would be scary to think about a football player graduation high school in May or June and being on an NFL field in September, or even being drafted the following spring just one year later. It would also be a very, very bad optic to have even a player two years removed from high school suffer the kind of injury that Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph suffered this past weekend against the Baltimore Ravens.
While I give credit to Jim Harbaugh for trying to do what’s fair for college football players, as someone who played college and pro football and has coached at both levels feels like an idea that has already been decided upon by Mother Nature, who has proven to be smarted than the NCAA and the NFL on her worst day.