A More Perfect College Football Playoff - College Football Draft
College Football Draft
… could work just like in the NFL
It’s next to impossible for most college football teams to unseat the
champions or even break into the top ten in the rankings. This virtually
unscalable postseason mountain exists, because college scouts from the
top-tier football universities- first and foremost in the Power Five con-
ferences and Notre Dame- recruit high school stars to play for them. Of
course, these players want to be part of the best college teams and look
for the high visibility by playing in games that are shown on television.
But every year there are also excellent high school players who end up
on teams in lower profile conferences which the media largely ignore,
and so these players must wait until the NFL draft- if they can make it
that far- to become well known to the world of football fans.
One of the leading justifications for a college football draft is pre-
cisely the fact that the same teams- such as Alabama, Ohio State, and
USC- dominate in the sport year after year. The question is whether a
college football draft, even an optimal version of one, could level the
playing field. Would the FBS teams with the lowest win-loss percent-
ages today eventually rise to the top in the foreseeable future?
The National Signing Day, the elite high school football players’ rite
of passage to college, could provide a foundation on which to build the
college football draft. As a side effect, college football draft could con-
ceivably purge the recruiting process of the disreputable practices such
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as “hostesses”, college-aged women employed by universities to influ-
ence high school boys to accept their school’s scholarship offer.
In 1936, the NFL originated a draft to put the brakes on the runaway
freight train of the best college football players signing with the teams
that offered them the highest salaries, which year after year resulted in
the same teams finishing the season at the top of the league standings.
Because of the draft’s rule that the lowest ranking team pick earliest on
draft day, by 1958 each of 12 teams in the league had been awarded the
first overall draft pick, meaning that in 22 years every team in the NFL
had finished last in terms of win-loss percentage.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s benefited from the draft
Many NFL franchises had built through the draft. There may be no
greater example than the Dallas Cowboys who used multiple picks to
go from a 1-15 record in 1989 to three Super Bowls wins in the 1990s.
The evidence for the notion that NFL draft put a stop to the top-heavy
dynasty teams is irrefutable. Although in very recent NFL history the
draft hasn’t performed perfectly, with teams like New England and
Green Bay regularly making the postseason cut, the most useful how-
to guide for creating a college football draft, including the reason for
doing so, remains the 80-year track record of the NFL.
College Football Draft 21
Moreover, the NFL draft isn’t only about helping teams become win-
ners. On a more personal level it, provides an orderly, efficient, well-
coordinated transition for college football players into pros. Included
in this orderliness is a well-structured system of funneling a large num-
ber of players into a comparatively small number of teams. Immedi-
ately after the last pick is announced, NFL teams begin to negotiate
with undrafted college players who also want to play. These undrafted
free agents are joined by other free agents who, for example, have been
released and haven’t signed with another team yet. While the NFL lim-
its the draft to only so many picks, the total number of rookie hopefuls
that teams may hire is only limited by the 90-man roster allowed to go
into training camp.
Eli Manning famously refused to be drafted by the San Diego Chargers
There are also some draft picks who don’t sign with their drafting
team, and if the team releases them, they are free to sign with any other
team. The players who expect to be a later round pick may be able to
negotiate a higher salary with a team who wants to sign them. Other
players may simply want to have more control over which team they
will play for, and even which city they want to live in. A famous ex-
ample of a college player who didn’t want to play for a specific team
is Eli Manning, who in 2004 had expected to be drafted by the San
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Diego Chargers. Before the NFL draft, Manning made a public state-
ment saying that he would never play for San Diego. The Chargers
drafted him, negotiated with the New York Giants, and released Man-
ning to them.
While these may be considered details, they nonetheless would in-
form the college draft model, which could in most elements emulate
the NFL draft.
Derek Carr was honored to be taken by Oakland Raiders
A big obstacle to the college football draft may be that a drafting
university can’t legally coerce a graduating high school senior to accept
its scholarship offer. High school football players will always have a
free choice in the matter, but many student-athletes will be glad to play
for any FBS team. Since the best college football players expect to be
drafted by an NFL team that had a bad season, it wouldn’t be too mor-
ally lofty to contend that these players feel honored to play for any pro-
fessional team. The same phenomenon could apply to the high school
players being drafted by any college football team. At first, there may
be some growing pains when the drafting team is not at least an FBS
school. Yet, some players actually seek challenges to transcend their
natural limits by helping a cause. Consider quarterback Derek Carr be-
ing drafted by the Oakland Raiders and helping them become compet-
College Football Draft 23
itive again. If Carr had instead gone to the New England Patriots, striv-
ing to meet the high expectations of that team might have produced a
different effect and not been so personally rewarding.
Last, but not least, a college football draft would have the practical
issue of the number of participating teams and players. On National
Signing Day, high school seniors can commit via a binding National
Letter of Intent to a collegiate sport with an NCAA school. The organ-
ization allows FBS teams to recruit 28 prospective players, then to
award 25 scholarships by the day cuts are made. With 129 teams in the
FBS, there could potentially be as many as 3,640 draft candidates,
which is a magnitude higher than in the NFL. While such an event
sounds like a logistical nightmare, it’s going to be figured out as long
as the benefits clearly outweigh the additional costs.