Michigan's Jim Harbaugh Writes Open Letter Proposing College Eligibility Changes

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2020

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 30: Michigan Wolverines Head Football Coach Jim Harbaugh watches the pregame warmups prior to the start of the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh lobbied for relaxing the NFL draft eligibility requirements for college football players, proposing a player be able to declare for the draft "after any season he chooses" in an open letter to the "football community" Thursday. 

Adam Schefter of ESPN shared Harbaugh's letter:

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

Jim Harbaugh wants to overhaul the rules of college eligibility of when is the right time to turn pro and enter the draft, as this letter shows. Baseball and hockey already have changed, and basketball is about to change, and Harbaugh wants to empower the student-athlete. https://t.co/lQLb10H8SR

Harbaugh suggested that any player who is selected within the first 224 picks or signs a free-agent contract would forgo any remaining college eligibility. Those who go undrafted would be allowed to return.

Under the present system, players have to be three years removed from high school before they're allowed to make the jump to the pros.

Harbaugh recounted how he spent five years at Michigan and went on to enjoy a successful career in the NFL. He wrote that his experience shouldn't be the only path, however:

"While that was great for me and can be for many current football athletes, it may not be best for all. There are 'early bloomers,' capable of competing in the NFL and earning a livelihood at an earlier age. The goal would be to create a scenario that makes adjustments for all current and future student-athletes that puts the timeline for transition to professional football at their discretion and that of their family. I propose an option that allows theem to make the decision that is best for them."

The NBA only requires players to wait one year. MLB allows high schoolers to enter the draft, but those who attend college don't become draft-eligible for another three years.

With regard to the NFL, the general thinking is that football exacts a much higher physical toll than basketball or baseball. As such, players should be prohibited from going pro until they've developed more.

Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams attempted to enter the 2004 NFL draft, one year earlier than they were allowed. They appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be denied.

Harbaugh's letter is somewhat surprising if only because college football isn't facing the kind of threat posed to college basketball that would potentially require changing the rules.

LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton, two highly touted recruits in the 2019 class, chose to play in Australia for the 2019-20 season rather than going down the traditional college route.

The NBA is also getting more aggressive in luring away top prep stars. 

Jalen Green, Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd are joining the NBA G League Select Team, with the purpose of training and preparing for the 2021 NBA draft. Green, Nix and Todd rank third, 15th and 18th nationally in 247Sports' 2020 composite rankings.

Especially with the collapse of the XFL, high school football players don't have any realistic alternatives to playing in college. Skipping a bowl game is the extent to which they can exert a level of autonomy with regard to their NFL prospects.

Multiple steps are required before Harbaugh's proposal becomes a reality. The fact he wrote the letter at all might still speak to the momentum growing behind addressing the NFL's eligibility rules.