Will We Ever See a High School Football Star Jump Straight to NFL?

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterMarch 21, 2013

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger GoodellChristian Petersen/Getty Images

A record 74 underclassmen declared for the 2013 NFL Draft and that mark broke the previous record of 65 set last year. For those who thought that 2011 was a fluke, 2012 proved it wasn't, despite the NFL's new rookie wage cap addition in its 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

FOXSports' John Czarnecki explains exactly what the rookie salary cap entails here:

This season’s rookie compensation for players selected among the first 10 picks will start with the average salary of the top 10 players at the player’s position. Those picked between 11th and 32nd in the first round will start with a salary of the top third through 25th players at the player’s position. This year, the total rookie compensation will be limited to $874 million. The league estimates the savings will amount to more than $175 million in the first three years of the deal.

That still sounds like all kinds of awesomeness for a kid living on a university-issued stipend, doesn't it? And that's exactly why somewhere down the road, the current three-year wait period out of high school graduation will probably become extinct—somebody is going to take on the National Football League and win his case. 

Ohio State's Maurice Clarett tried to get around that three-year wait, but he wasn't exactly a sympathetic hero. USC's Mike Williams also tried to play early, but failed. More from ESPN:

Williams and Clarett hope that the appeals court upholds the ruling handed down in February by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who struck down the NFL's restriction that prohibits players from entering the draft until three years after they graduate from high school.

Scheindlin basically decided that the NFL's eligibility rules were a classic restraint of trade, a violation of U.S. antitrust laws -- just like the U.S. Supreme Court found in 1971, when it struck down the NBA's draft eligibility rules in the case of Spencer Haywood. That case opened the door for high school players to enter the NBA.

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Because the public is becoming more sympathetic toward players like South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, the door to the NFL may start to open.

Lattimore, who blew out his knee in 2011, rehabbed it and then blew out his knee again last October against the Tennessee Volunteers. The 5-star running back has a three-year college rushing career of 2,677 yards—that's not bad.  But considering what he could have done if he had been allowed to play in the NFL and earn seven figures instead is not an argument without merit.

The Post-Gazette featured an article on Clarett's attempt to legally challenge the NFL's current waiting period and one particular coach's remarks encapsulated the dilemma:

Duquesne coach Greg Gattuso, who played on Penn State's 1982 national championship team, is torn between players' rights and what he believes is best for the sport.

"I honestly would never want to see a kid that age play pro football," Gattuso said. "That said, there's a right in this country to have the freedom to try. I think a kid certainly deserves an opportunity to feed his family and do the things he feels are beneficial. It's hard to tell a kid he can't make a living just because he's 19 years old."

Some kids, however, are a lot older at high school graduation than those who graduated 20 years ago.

More and more parents are delaying their sons' entrances into kindergarten so that they will be more physically and emotionally mature when they do finally start their education. Parents may also see athletic potential at an early age and feel that their boys will have a size advantage in football or basketball if they 'redshirt' kindergarten.

This is important to remember because what used to be an average high school graduate age of 17 to 18 years old can now be 18 or 19 years old. Shouldn't a 19-year old have the opportunity to enter the work force of his choosing if the employer wants his services? Moreover, if he's able to enlist in a U.S military service, carry a gun and/or engage in the theater of warfare, why can't he get paid to play a game?

The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball both draft out of high school—the National Basketball Association used to as well. In fact, one of the NBA's biggest stars is Kobe Bryant, who at the age of 17 was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets (the Los Angeles Lakers acquired his draft rights shortly thereafter) in 1996.

The thought of a 17-year-old quarterback playing under center with 30-year old linebackers gunning for him will make even the most ardent football fans shiver—most quarterbacks right out of high school are in need of a 20-pound weight gain and better strength and conditioning to withstand the onslaught of defensive players.

Aside from the age factor, the lack of financial background also goes hand-in-hand with why so many are against the idea of a high school graduate going straight to professional football.

With 78 percent of NFL players facing financial hardship or bankruptcy after two years into retirement, it's even more difficult to surmise how a teenager will handle millions of dollars. It's a major concern but at the same time, isn't that the teenager's problem, and not the NFL's? 

If the NFL agreed to require all players under the age of 21 to undergo a mandatory one-year accounting/financial planning training session, would that change its current mindset? It might be a good start but then again, why aren't lottery picks in the NBA—some of whom are known to blow all of their winnings—required to take a class before playing? In any case, this shouldn't be the responsibility of the NFL—that was supposed to be the responsibility of a higher institute of learning.

While we mull over who is really responsible for teaching kids how to manage money, the fact that we are really mulling over that exposes how our society has changed.  

If someone had told you 20 years ago that marijuana use will have had become legal in some US states, would you have believed it? 

Society as a whole has become more tolerant of what was once considered criminal behavior. One segment of society has become more vocal about sharing the wealth—the Occupy movements highlighted an increasing amount of civil protest over corporate greed. And that sharing the wealth concept is now simmering at the student-athlete level. 

Society is more sympathetic to the plight of the student-athlete—his perceived role has evolved into a pawn in a game that generates hundreds of million dollars every year, yet he gets none of that. Where's his fair share?

In the 1960's, an athletic scholarship was a priceless gift—now it's something that is discarded by many student-athletes after three years.

True, teenagers and young adults do things that indicate a sense of immortality, impervious to serious injury or death, ignorant of common sense. So do some adults for that matter. To some, skipping school to play a game under a multi-million dollar contract is a no-brainer. For others, it's a trap that doesn't have the safety net of a four-year degree. 

Maybe the recent data regarding the long-term effects of brain trauma in sports will cause some some of the over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes to go pro in something other than sports.

Try telling that to the 76 underclassmen football players entering the draft this year. The underclassmen who grew up with Peyton Manning fatheads on their walls. The blue chippers who are idolized by a town, county or state and have tens of thousands of twitter followers. The student-athletes who understand that it's not just the NFL contract, it's about the lucrative endorsement deals. 

When society starts softening its stance on issues that were once considered non-negotiable, you can count on seeing a teenager playing on Sundays at Lambeau Field.  

And if he takes your team to the Super Bowl, you probably won't complain. 

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