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As free agency approaches, Dan Rooney urges college players to stay in school

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The NFL enjoys a tenuous relationship with college football.  The league benefits greatly from a farm system that costs the NFL nothing, allowing the many major college programs to develop players and weed out pretenders and allow the 32 franchises to welcome an annual crop of boys who have become men on someone else’s watch.

In return, the NFL has erected (with the consent of the NFLPA) a barrier to the periodic boys who already are men, able to leap to the NFL before expiration of the mandatory three-year waiting period after high school.

Since the passage of the new labor deal, the NFL has developed a problem.  With the lottery prizes at the top of round one eliminated, more and more college players are inclined to leave once their three years have passed, anxious to begin putting in seasons toward a second pro contract limited only by the marketplace.

Responding to the recent trend, Steelers chairman Dan Rooney has penned an op-ed urging players to stay in school.

Published last weekend by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and posted this week by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rooney blames the dynamic on agents looking for a quick score.  But the quick score has been greatly diminished by the rookie wage scale.  Before 2011, a player pegged to be a second-round pick could make tens of millions by staying in school one more year and vaulting to the top of the first round.  Since 2011, that extra year won’t dramatically increase a player’s potential earnings.

With each human body having a limited number of hits it can take in a lifetime, the sooner those hits are taken for money, the better.

While not every college player should squander his remaining eligibility, those who know that the NFL is ready for them should go as soon as they can, earning real money for the constant physical risks and wear and tear.  College will always be there.  The cartilage and ligaments and tendons may not.

We won’t address each of Rooney’s points.  But if he’s right — if players should stay in school — the solution is simple.  The league and the union should push the waiting period from three years to four.

The NFL will never do that because the league wants the best of the best players.  But for the potential harm opening the floodgates would do to the league’s ability to enjoy the full benefits of a free farm system, the NFL would get rid of the waiting period completely, taking anyone who has the physical skills to make a difference at the pro level, regardless of age.

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28 Responses to “As free agency approaches, Dan Rooney urges college players to stay in school”
  1. h3min1230 says: Mar 9, 2014 9:41 PM

    Easy to say when you’re a billionaire.

  2. h3min1230 says: Mar 9, 2014 9:42 PM

    You go to school to make a living. So when the opportunity presents itself they should be all over it.

  3. stoolerz says: Mar 9, 2014 9:53 PM

    Wow, Florio calling out Rooney. Someone’s having a bad day.

  4. meatcarroll says: Mar 9, 2014 9:55 PM

    What a joke. Don’t listen to those pretentious career academics with the audacity to claim that the point of college is to pursue knowledge or heighten critical thinking skills or some other bullcrap. The point of college is to get a real job. If these kids are confident they’ll be drafted, regardless of where, they need to declare and never look back. There’s a very narrow window in their lives where their physical prime can earn themselves a substantial amount of money. The first NFL paycheck is more than enough to return to college in the future, should they choose to do so. They owe almost nothing to this indentured servitude which makes billions of profits from their toiling without them seeing any of it.

  5. 1pwrightt says: Mar 9, 2014 10:04 PM

    Stay in college so the school can make millions and millions and there is another year of wear and tear on your body. When opportunity knocks you grab it. You can always go back to school. You can’t always come back from a torn ACL.

  6. fancyleague says: Mar 9, 2014 10:11 PM

    Rooney should be urging the NCAA to pay the players that make them uncountable amounts of cash. Better yet, Rooney should be urging colleges to scrap semi-professional sports and focus on education. Maybe then the NFL will get off its rear and create the real developmental league it’s needed for decades.

  7. toonloonboon says: Mar 9, 2014 10:13 PM

    yeah….what he ^ said.

  8. 3 Finger Lenny says: Mar 9, 2014 10:17 PM

    Yo Dan, mind your own business. Cranky old man

  9. gosfvr says: Mar 9, 2014 10:18 PM

    Pay the athletes to stay in school. The colleges earn billions from TV deals and the like, share it with the folks that help you make that money.

  10. detectivejimmymcnulty says: Mar 9, 2014 10:32 PM

    Seems like ESPN, CBS, NBS, or Fox is the landing spot for a lot of these guys anyway. Hell, the NFL Network will hire any ex-player.

  11. kidder95 says: Mar 9, 2014 10:33 PM

    If you are old enough to fight a war, you are old enough to chose your profession. End the hypocrisy.

  12. jayniner says: Mar 9, 2014 10:34 PM

    As a person who bucked the trend of “getting a job, working for someone else and making them a ton of money”, by starting my own business, I’m indifferent to both sides. Both sides are losers.

    The current owners did not start the team/leagues they work for and currently make a lot of money from. The players are only benefiting from a system that has been in place for so long that they believe they are owed and entitled to something and a lot of money.

    If you really want to earn our respect as fans, go out and start something on your own, with your own merit and own money, then come talk to us about how you made it in the greatest country in the world.

    We don’t respect any of you….

  13. Moudabo says: Mar 9, 2014 10:34 PM

    How are they not seeing any of it?
    Last I heard, 60 players were diving up 133 mil on each and every one of the 32 teams.

    Most of these players will earn more in one year
    than I’ll make in a lifetime, so forgive me if I don’t feel too sorry for these players. The same
    goes for their billionaire employers who keep
    bumping up ticket prices, despite getting billions from their TV contracts..
    Greed abounds.

  14. jollyjoker2 says: Mar 9, 2014 10:39 PM

    Quite frankly…I would sit out my second or third year or both of college if I knew I was a great player. No need to get beat up when the big cash is waiting for you.

  15. dartwick says: Mar 9, 2014 10:46 PM

    Rooney is deluded here.

    With the current set up if you are good enough to get signed by a team is makes no sense economically to stay in school.

  16. blackngold4life says: Mar 9, 2014 10:53 PM

    Hmmmm..stay in school and risk ya physical well being and get paid nothing or go to the NFL make a couple mill while you can and still pursue ya education? Sorry Dan, I love ya but its a no Brainer

  17. beardinals says: Mar 9, 2014 10:53 PM

    I’ll place bets that a HUGE percentage of players in college aren’t doing a lot in the way of education anyway.

    They are right to get any money they can now and if they want school later, after a successful or failed career, so be it.

  18. wtfchiefs says: Mar 9, 2014 10:57 PM

    There is no way a young man is going to choose another couple years in school over playing in the NFL and making a lot of money. I wouldn’t have stayed if I had that opportunity. I think if anything the NFL or even the colleges should do more to show these guys how to spend responsibly.

  19. berniemadoffsides says: Mar 9, 2014 11:02 PM

    There may not be a bigger scam now-a-days than college.

    That being said, it’s usually a necessity to make a decent living. If you’re getting one for free, might as well stick it out or complete the degree in the offseason.

  20. sportsfan18 says: Mar 9, 2014 11:03 PM

    Baseball is about the best sport for those wanting to play it professionally.

    The NBA keeps a player out one yr and now wants to raise it to 20 yrs old (new commish Silver does).

    The NFL keeps players out 3 seasons…

    The NFL signs players to reasonable first contracts now but some, not all, but some outplay them and have little leverage.

    Football is dangerous and those who are good need to remain both very good and healthy to make it to when they are eligible for the big bucks.

    Then if they get the big bucks, if or as soon as they don’t play up to their contract, the team cuts them.

    So the teams get many players on the cheap and when they pay them the big bucks, they are protected because they may just cut them.

    Father Time is undefeated as we all know… the longer it takes you to get in to the league and the longer it takes you to begin making the big bucks, the shorter amount of time you have to make the big bucks.

    The NFL is HUGELY popular and it makes a lot of people a lot of money, the commish made like $44 million last yr, the owners, G.M., agents, TV people and on and on…

    They ALL make money due to the players. The players are the product.

    Those making money from them know that more are always coming up behind them so they don’t mind if they get hurt or only make the big bucks for a short amount of time etc…

    The baseball union is better for their players than the NFL and the NBA, which will have another lockout in 2017

  21. upby3 says: Mar 9, 2014 11:06 PM

    Look at the NBA, drafting a bunch of kids out of high school. Pro basketball has gotten hard to watch because of it. I don’t want to see the NFL sink to that level.

  22. maverick2560 says: Mar 9, 2014 11:17 PM

    Mr. Rooney is a fine man . His family has had a reputation for
    representing the common man …the blue collar player and fans.
    I do have to wonder if Mr. Rooney continues to support an
    organization like the NCAA. An organization who pays slave wages in the form of scholarships. If the NCAA agreed to pay the college
    players 20 percent of defined revenues less what Nfl players get.
    A college football player could pay his tuition and still make 50000.00
    a year. In addition let the players get some type of revenue from jersey
    sales. Why can a chem major market his invention but a college football player cannot be paid for his autograph …likeness ..jersey sale?

  23. 1rockyracoon says: Mar 9, 2014 11:32 PM

    So they should spend an extra year of their career playing for free in college instead of making money in the NFL. That sounds idiotic.

  24. chargrz says: Mar 9, 2014 11:48 PM

    It’s not like most of these guys are going to class anyways.

  25. rajbais says: Mar 10, 2014 12:31 AM

    The unspoken big issue that deals with players leaving early is the college benefit.

    There is too small of one.

    When economists point out how students (many of whom obviously don’t play college football) study 13.5 hrs per week and the typical class schedule is 31.25 hrs being per four weekdays (5 lectures x 2 per course x 1.25 hrs per course Mon-Thur) the college football players are getting ripped off.

    If Michael Lewis tells PBS correctly that football and basketball are 50 hour work weeks without the education what does it say when a minimum 12 credit hour athlete has to fit that and study time?

    It says that athletes are worth 2.73 times more than a typical college student and that the typical college student is allowed to do practically nothing.

    How is an academic scholarship worth enough to exhaust yourself and be academically eligible?

    It isn’t and the NCAA is a way bigger villain than the NFL because it retards opportunity when the NFL has a greater one.

    By the way, how can the NCAA be for higher learning and institutional values when they steal money from players by using their likenesses for merchandise and them as unpaid football labor when schools want to expel students for cheating or plagiarizing because that work is not theirs?

    The NFL is also doing itself a disservice because if they evaluate players who are not paid for football, but get academic compensation when they do 2.73 times as much work as a non-athlete student how will they know what the player is like when he is paid?

  26. 4thandlonger says: Mar 10, 2014 1:29 AM

    It’s a strange world when NFL owners want players to stay longer in college. Tells me something isn’t quite right.

    Also as an aside if 3 years of tertiary education (on top of high school etc) isn’t enough to get someone to learn how to behave and take care of money then a 4th year isn’t going to do much. Which itself tells me theres something wrong with the education these players are getting, but we already knew that.

  27. pabrownsfan says: Mar 10, 2014 8:04 AM

    Rooney urges college players to stay in school….unless he wants to draft them :)

  28. mitchitized says: Mar 10, 2014 10:34 AM

    Rooney is talking about a lot more than just direct economic impact of staying in college for the fourth year. He’s talking about maturing (both physically and mentally), and laying the groundwork for a potential career outside the gridiron.

    Not sure how this is ‘idiotic’, sounds pretty logical to me. I would have *killed* for a full tuition scholarship to a major university. Blows my mind that someone would take a pass on that, just to take a gamble in the pros.

    The pros, by the way, are infinitely more fickle and volatile. An example: You could be the best tight end ever seen on the field but if suddenly tight ends are just big receivers, then your awesome blocking skills are useless. Had you stayed in college one more year, you could have seen this change, and made adjustments to your training so you would be more attractive to the new-style position.

    I suppose the flipside would be if you were watching your specialty go the way of the dodo, and needed to come out early while you still had market value. That’s an edge case though, and I still think it’s sad to see kids pass on such an opportunity to try their luck in the pros.

    I get it that many folks think “take the money now while you still can” but that’s the high-risk play, not all that much different from taking your life savings to Vegas for a weekend and hoping for the best.

    Why not finish your education so you have something you can fall back on, in case the whole “mo money mo money!” thing doesn’t work out?

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