NFL, AFCA agree to change “May 16 rule”

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Here’s a Friday afternoon good news dump, as it relates to the NFL.

While not an official announcement (yet) from the league, the NFL and the American Football Coaches Association have agreed to revise the rule that was keeping certain rookies out of offseason workout program for outdated reasons. Adopted as a way to ensure that NFL teams wouldn’t pressure players to leave school after being drafted, the prior rule preventing players at schools that had not yet implemented final exams was keeping players who had either dropped out of school to prepare for the draft or completed their studies from participating in offseason workouts aimed at helping them get ready for their rookie seasons.

The rule was particularly harmful to late-round and undrafted players who ended up being woefully behind in the quest to do enough to get a realistic chance at making the 53-man roster.

PFT has obtained the memo, dated October 5, which communicates the revision to teams. The new rule, effective in 2018, allows rookies at schools with final exams concluding on or after May 16 to participate in the offseason program as of May 16 if the player: (1) provides documentation that he has completed all necessary requirement for all courses in which he was enrolled; (2) is permitted to return to school for any final exams in non-online courses, if he has remained enrolled; (3) is permitted enough time to complete final exams for online courses; or (4) is no longer enrolled in school.

The player also may choose to remain in school and skip the offseason program, which already goes without saying since the offseason program is voluntary in nature, even for rookies who are under contract. Still, the rule expressly states that the team may not attempt to persuade a player to leave school, and may not indicate to the player that the participation in the program is not voluntary.

It’s a smart move by the league, even though just a few months ago the NFL clumsily tried to defend the rule. By making the change, players from schools like Washington, Northwestern, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA will no longer be at a disadvantage when it comes to getting ready for the season and competing for jobs. And all players — even those still in school — will be allowed to participate in the offseason program, if they want to.