It’s been a bad few months for the NFLPA. Yes, the lockout was resolved in a manner that minimized lost games and revenues. But the final days of the process resulted in several important issues being bungled or ignored, from the agreement to submit to HGH testing to the “elite eight” who’ll be subject to discipline for off-field incidents during the lockout to the absence of a grace period before the return of substance-abuse testing, NFLPA leadership has been stumbling through a minefield of P.R. debacles.
The latest has no direct relationship to the CBA, but it could cause the greatest public embarrassment of all.
Earlier this month, the NFLPA attached its name to an all-star game that will be played on January 21 — and that will feature not only seniors but also underclassmen who have declared their intention to leave school early.
The only problem? NFL scouts won’t be there. They won’t be there because NFL scouts are prohibited from attending any practices or games involving underclassmen.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tells PFT that scouts may not be present for practices or for the game, even after the underclassmen are certified as draft eligible. (This year, the announcement is expected to come on January 19, only two days before the NFLPA game.)
So while the scouts will be able to watch the game on TV, the experience won’t be nearly as meaningful as, for example, the Senior Bowl, with multiple days of practices closely monitored and scrutinized by NFL scouts. Given the absence of scouts from practices, the underclassmen have to ask themselves whether it makes sense to assume the injury risk arising from playing in one more non-NFL game.
Why does the NFL steer clear of any events involving underclassmen? Our guess is that the league wants to avoid involvement in anything that could prompt college football players to sacrifice their eligibility prematurely. Since players are usually recruited to participate in all-star games, it will be interesting to see whether the NFLPA tries to lure players to participate, and in turn to give up their remaining eligibility.
“We thought about it long and hard and we decided if a player is draft eligible, he will be eligible to play in our game,” NFLPA assistant executive director Clark Gaines told ESPNLosAngeles.com in early November. “Who are we to deny him his livelihood? If juniors are giving up their eligibility and are past the point of return, they are draft eligible and we will invite them to play in the game.”
But here’s the thing. The deadline for submitting a petition is January 15, and a 72-hour escape hatch exists. Thus, the true point of no return comes on January 18, which will coincide with the Wednesday of the practice week before the NFLPA game.
Of course, the point of no return will come earlier than that, if the player hires an agent. But conditioning an invitation to the NFLPA game on the hiring of an agent would be an extremely unwise decision.
Then again, based on some of the decisions that the NFLPA has made in recent weeks, there’s a good chance it will happen that way.