College football players should be able to test draft waters without penalty

Denver Kirkland /

There are plenty of things the NCAA gets wrong. Don’t get me started. However, praise should be given where praise is due, and from the looks of things, the organization’s new rule that allows college basketball players to enter the NBA Draft without losing their amateur status as long as they don’t sign with an agent appears worthy of praise.

As anyone who even remotely follows Razorbacks basketball knows, Arkansas center/forward Moses Kingsley used the rule to his benefit this spring. He entered the draft to find out reliable information about his chances of being drafted, but did not sign with an agent.

Once he learned that his chances of being selected were poor, Kingsley opted to withdraw his name from the draft and return to the Hogs for what everyone hopes will be an even better season from one of the most improved players in the country last year.

A year ago, there was no testing the waters. A basketball player was either in college or out if he entered the draft. A player like Kingsley would have been stuck. He could have attempted to play on an NBA-sponsored developmental league team or tried to sign with a professional team overseas. Or he could return to the UA to finish up his degree on his own dime and just not play basketball.

So again, give credit where credit is due. Allowing basketball players to get a true sense of their market value and then make a decision about their future is about the least the NCAA members can do for the players whose backs their programs are built upon.

What I don’t get, though, is why would a rule be written for basketball players alone? Why not when creating this new rule include other sports, as well?

Why shouldn’t football players be given the same option?

Former Arkansas offensive lineman Denver Kirkland received some bad information about his possible draft status from an agent that he signed with before he and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had a chance to visit about the young man’s pro potential.

Kirkland was not drafted, and incidentally, he let that agent go the day before the NFL Draft when it became clear that agent may have not been working in Kirkland’s best interest.

Now, Kirkland did sign a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders the day after the draft. He will get his shot to make the roster and fulfill his pro football dream. Hopefully, he will beat the odds and make the Raiders’ roster, but it is going to be an uphill battle. His contract has no guarantees other than whatever his signing bonus was. The Raiders can carry him up to the final cut day or let him go at any point. It’s no skin off their nose if he doesn’t make it. To make the roster, he will have to not only outperform drafted rookies but also outshine veterans. Free agents make teams every year, but it’s only a very small percentage of all those who sign contracts. Truth be told most rookie free agents are just practice fodder for training camps and the preseason games. Honestly, the same could be said for late-round draft picks.

If the NCAA granted the same rights to football players that it does to basketball players, we don’t know what Kirkland would have done. He may have still signed with an agent anyway, nullifying his college eligibility. But then again, he might have held off. Once he came to realize his chances of being drafted in a decent position were slim, he might have opted to return for his senior year to polish his skills like Kingsley is doing now on the hardwood.

Another year in college might have made a difference in Kirkland being drafted. We’ll never know for sure. One thing we do know is that there would still have been NFL teams waiting to sign quality free agents to fill out their training camp rosters.

However, another year in school for Kirkland would have advanced him closer to gaining his college degree if not actually given him the time to complete it. That’s something that can never be taken away, unlike NFL dreams, which get snuffed out all the time except for the elite few.

The NCAA needs to extend the same opportunity to college football players that it has given to its basketball players. Football players should be able to fully test their chances of being drafted without paying the ultimate penalty of losing their eligibility and their opportunity of getting their degree for the work they put in on the field and in training.

No doubt such a move would complicate matters across the board for football programs from administrative issues to recruiting efforts. But it is the only fair thing to do.

The onus is on the football coaches. If they collectively want it to happen, their athletic directors will champion it, and then the chancellors and presidents will vote it in.

It needs to get done. It should have been done years ago.