On April 25, 2013, the dreams of a group of young men will come true as their names are read from the podium at the 2013 NFL Draft. Throughout seven rounds, the NFL’s 32 teams will take turns selecting players who will become the young core of their rosters. While many dreams will come true during the NFL Draft, some will be dashed. What options does a player have if he goes undrafted?
The first question an undrafted player may ask is whether he can return to his collegiate team. The NCAA’s rules on amateurism affect whether this is a plausible option for the player. The NCAA’s bylaws state that “only an amateur student-athlete is eligible” to participate in NCAA athletics. One way in which a student-athlete can lose his amateur status is by signing with an agent. NCAA bylaw 12.1.2 (g) notes that, “An individual loses amateur status if the individual enters into an agreement with an agent.”
Most football players who enter the NFL Draft have previously entered into agreements with an agent. These agreements are arguably necessary, as it is the agent who has the connections with team front office staff members and scouts. These connections can assist the player in being scouted and ultimately drafted by a team. Without an agent or their own tight connections to an NFL team, it is difficult for a player to be drafted by an NFL team. The issue, though, is that by signing with an agent, a player closes the door on his NCAA playing career.
Given that signing with an agent removes an NCAA student-athlete’s amateur status, it is clear that there are some serious questions a student-athlete and his family must address prior to declaring for the NFL Draft and subsequently signing with an agent. The first and most obvious is assessing the student-athlete’s actual likelihood of being drafted. If serious questions persist as to whether a student-athlete will be drafted, and if the student-athlete still has NCAA eligibility, he would be best advised to not sign with an agent, forego the NFL Draft and return to college. This is the most important for scholarship student-athletes, who would be able to return to school and continue their education under a scholarship. This route would give the student-athlete more time to develop his skills, while also gaining valuable educational opportunities that will open doors should the NFL not open its door to the student-athlete.
The other option that a student-athlete has is to declare for the NFL Draft but not enter into an agreement with an agent. This year, there is reportedly only one player who has taken this route. That player would be University of Florida Safety, Matt Elam. After playing for three years at Florida, Elam declared for this year’s NFL Draft. That means that Elam maintains eligibility. While some draft analysts believe that Elam will be drafted in the first round, should Elam not be drafted, he holds onto the option to return to Florida, continue pursuing his education, play on the Florida Gators football team and be a scholarship student-athlete. The alternative, which is the option Elam would likely prefer, is that he is drafted by an NFL team. After being drafted by a team, Elam will likely sign an agreement with an agency to represent him in contract negotiations. However, given that rookie contracts are fairly standardized under the new NFL collective bargaining agreement, there’s a chance that Elam could forego signing an agent altogether and hang onto the percentage of his salary he would otherwise turn over to one.
Signing with an agent is arguably the biggest factor a college football player must consider when deciding to declare for the NFL Draft with respect to maintaining his eligibility. However, for players like Elam, if and when they are drafted, a new issue presents itself. NCAA bylaw 12.1.2 (c) says that a student-athlete who signs a contract to play professional athletics waives his amateur status and thereby, can no longer participate in NCAA sports. Thus, using Elam as an example, even if he didn’t sign with an agent, if he is drafted and subsequently signs a rookie contract with an NFL team, he loses his NCAA eligibility.
The above may seem apparent, but there are lingering issues present for student-athlete. Even though a player signs a rookie contract, there is no guarantee that he will make the team’s roster. This is especially true for players drafted in later rounds. As such, draft prospects with remaining eligibility must realize that they are essentially giving up a free education when they sign an NFL contract. They must fully assess their abilities and commitment to training and decipher whether the benefits of signing an NFL contract exceed the costs of leaving college.
As names are called during the 2013 NFL Draft, many story lines will be presented. However, as shown above, it’s likely that many of the young men who will hear their names have played out in their minds how various options could affect the outcome of their own personal story.