How an Underclassman Combine Would Benefit College Football and the NFL Draft

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMay 31, 2016

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema
Arkansas head coach Bret BielemaWesley Hitt/Getty Images

DESTIN, Fla. — Ninety-six players decided to leave college football early following the 2015 season, and 30 of them never heard their names called during the 2016 NFL draft.

A whopping 31.3 percent.

Something has to change, and the SEC's head coaches are going to try to lead the charge.

"It's alarming how many underclassmen are coming out and not getting drafted," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. "Why are they coming out and not getting drafted? Is it because they get bad information? I don't know."

As Jim Weber of Lost Lettermen noted on Twitter, football players have a path back after they declare.

Except there's a massive roadblock on that path.

Players who declare have to train for the combine and pro days, and the only way to do that is with money and investing time.

That money often comes from agents, which means there's virtually no way for a college football player to come back to school, retain eligibility and remain in good academic standing to play the following season.

The solution?

An underclassman combine that takes place shortly after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

"Great proposal," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "We usually start the week after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I know others start a little earlier. Maybe do it on a weekend."

Former Auburn RB Peyton Barber at the 2016 NFL combine
Former Auburn RB Peyton Barber at the 2016 NFL combineJoe Robbins/Getty Images

Instead of getting second- or thirdhand information through agents or other parties, an underclassman combine would give players real information from the actual people making decisions on their football future in January, prior to the deadline to declare.

"Anything that gives the kids a better opportunity, then I'm all for that," Smart said.

While an underclassman combine would provide quality information, it wouldn't prevent every player from making the jump prematurely.

"There are some young men who don't like school, and they're going to go out for the draft," said South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp. "Let's just be real. Regardless of whether they get drafted, they think they're going to make it and they'll be fine.

"It's one of the most frustrating things that I've had as a coach over the years as an assistant coach or a head coach. When you've recruited a young man for two or three years in high school and you've coached him for three years in college, and when he's making that decision, he's listening to somebody on the street instead of me."

An underclassman combine would not only help players who would likely go undrafted get quality information, but it would also provide better information and a healthier bottom line to those who could simply increase their draft stock by returning to school.

Former Arkansas DT Darius Philon
Former Arkansas DT Darius PhilonJoe Robbins/Getty Images

"I had a sophomore come out, Darius Philon," Bielema said. "He redshirted and then played two years. He was the 16th pick in the sixth round [in 2015], so middle of the sixth round. If he had stayed in school and played last year, with as many defensive tackles that came out, I think he would have gone in the first two rounds. You're talking about $10-12 million that he'll never make again in his life. What makes sense?"

For the underclassman combine to truly make sense, though, it has to make sense for all parties involved.

The NFL would get another look at some quality draft-eligible players in a combine setting, which would help scouts develop their draft plans even prior to the actual NFL combine in mid-February. What's more, it would reduce the pool of players considered after some decide to go back to school based on the information they receive. 

As unrealistic as it is for college players to be able to come back after the draft, it's equally as unreasonable from a coaching perspective. 

National signing day takes place on the first Wednesday of February, schools will practice 15 times and hold spring games prior to the draft, and some programs will have welcomed transfers with open arms.

If they then allow former stars to come back, college head coaches will be forced to get creative with roster management. If the "oversigning" controversy from previous years has taught us anything, it's that creative roster management doesn't go over well either.

Because of that, the decision to stay or go has to come prior to national signing day—as it currently does.

"All of a sudden, a kid says he's coming back, 'Uh oh, we weren't expecting you to come back,'" Smart said. "There are some logistics there that need to be worked through."

Those logistics are exactly why the coaches, athletic directors and presidents are in Florida this week. The annual event known as SEC spring meetings is designed to discuss what measures the conference needs to take to fix current problems and prevent future ones.

By Friday, one of those problems might be solved with a concerted push for an underclassman combine.

"We already have a good game," Bielema said. "We could have a great game."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.