To the extent that the NFL wants to support the free farm system that is college football by encouraging players to remain in school for as long as possible, the NFL has stumbled over an unexpected tool that may persuade players to defer their draft plans.
A question posed during my weekly Tuesday morning visit with Mully & Haugh on WSCR in Chicago caused me to finally think of one of the most obvious, albeit unintended, consequences of previously unpaid players now being able to generate money from their college-football fame. If those athletes can make money through autographs, appearances, sponsorships, social-media posts, etc., those athletes easily can justify soaking up one more year of revenue from college football notoriety before potentially becoming a far less prominent cog in the far more significant football machine that is the NFL.
It won’t drive the decision, but it will be a factor. How much money will the player make by staying in school? How much money will the player make by leaving? What are the chances that the player won’t be drafted as high as he thinks he’ll be drafted? What if he’s not drafted at all?
The stakes become higher for players who throw away the money that would come from playing for his college football team in search of more from the pro game. Without NIL revenue there’s nothing to lose, other than the opportunity to do enough in that extra year of college football that would result in the player being taken earlier. With the NIL revenue, it’s a much more difficult bet to evaluate.
As the phony-baloney amateurism ruse crumbles, and as college football players inevitably get fair value for their skills, abilities, and sacrifices, they’ll be more likely to stick around for the full duration of their eligibility, before shifting to another level of football where the money may not be much better. For plenty of players — great college players who simply hit a ceiling in the NFL and can’t bust through it — the money may be worse.
Regardless, the money is coming for college football players. And it could get more college football players to play college football even longer, reducing the number of players who choose to enter the NFL draft prematurely.