With May's NFL draft quickly approaching, Saban shared some remarks with Phil Savage on SiriusXM NFL radio about how the draft process can be improved.
In short, Saban wants to make the combine more exclusive—355 players were invited this year, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com—and hold an additional underclassmen combine before the early-entry deadline in January.
The way it's going right now, I don't think the NFL really wants all these guys coming out for the draft. They know they can develop better in college if they stay and play more, unless they're going to be high draft picks. It's difficult for them to develop players the way they practice now, so if a player's not a high pick, it's much more difficult for them to develop as an NFL player. I even made the point that if we're not going to do something like (an underclassman combine), maybe if a guy doesn't have at least a top-three-round grade, you don't even invite him to the combine.
According to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, a record 98 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft this year. Another four who earned degrees but still had college eligibility were later added to that list.
That's 40 percent of the 254 spots from last year's draft. Undoubtedly, that means there will be some disappointed, undrafted players in a couple of months. However, as B/R's Adam Kramer wrote in January, leaving early for the NFL is one of the safest risks a player can take. Even if a player barely makes a roster, he's pulling in a league-minimum $405,000.
It's unlikely, if not impossible, that a college degree is going to yield that kind of instant payout. From an athlete's perspective, that's a hard number to turn down no matter the odds.
That doesn't mean the predraft process can't be improved, though. To that point, Saban's comments have some merit. With more and more underclassmen declaring every year, it behooves them to have as much information available about their chances as possible. Per Saban, that doesn't happen until after a player has given up his eligibility:
More guys go down at the combine than go up, because they're not as fast. And they don't have a very good feel in comparison to all the other competition in the draft at their position. And when they come to that realization, it's too late, the way we do it now.
But here's the devil-in-the-details issue with Saban's idea: Who gets behind it? The NCAA? The NFL? It seems unlikely that either will.
The NCAA is bent on amateurism, on athletes getting a college degree. It would have no interest in sponsoring an additional combine with the sole purpose of determining whether a player should leave early.
Meanwhile, the NFL is the benefactor of the status quo. It can invite more than 300 players to one combine for teams to scout. Why would the league ever agree to reduce that number? Or, why would it give a player a reason to go back to school because of his performance at an underclassmen-only combine?
The NFL, the most profitable sports enterprise in the country, enjoys all the perks of college football as a de facto development league without actually having to organize it. As far as pro teams are concerned, a player's decision to declare for the draft is his and his alone. An organization can draft whoever it wants, or pick a player up later as an undrafted free agent at a discount.
At any time, the organization can dump that player and its hands are completely clean in the process.
So while Saban's idea is great in theory, it's ultimately not feasible. Good luck getting any enterprise, whether the NCAA or the NFL, to support it.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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