By Zach Wagner | @zachwagner22
Sports Capital Journalism Program
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Alabama coach Nick Saban said that the January 18 deadline for college football underclassmen to declare for the National Football League draft should be adjusted to accommodate participants in the expanded four-team College Football Playoff.
“I wish they would move the declare date back,” Saban said Sunday. “I wish they’d make a rule that says you can’t even give a player what his draft status is from the NFL … until they’ve finished their competition as a college player.”
The deadline is seven days after Alabama and Clemson will meet in the National Championship Monday night. Saban believes that the close turnaround to declare creates an avoidable distraction and unnecessary stress.
“You don’t put them and their families in this situation where there’s a big timing issue relative to competition,” he said.
Of the 128 college programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, only 50 finished the season before December 6. According to Saban, players from those 50 teams have a major advantage as they consider the possibility of leaving school and giving up their remaining eligibility. “If you finished your season on December 6, you can make a decision,” he said.
Saban’s commitment to initiating a conversation on the issue became clear after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was asked how his juniors were handling the decision-making process. “Could I make a comment about that?” Saban said, and he described an effort to create a discussion among college coaches after the Crimson Tide lost the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State last year. Saban said he plans to call Swinney after the National Championship to continue the conversation.
Swinney said he was aware of what most of his juniors will decide, and expects that announcements would be made – some via Twitter — soon after the game Monday night. He agreed with the concerns Saban had raised near the end of the final press conference before the game.
“There’s no doubt, it’s a distraction that all of us have to deal with,” Swinney said. “I echo that point 100 percent. It really should be when the season is over, whenever that is, and they should hold those things.”
Swinney said that results from the league’s evaluation process can result in a disappointing grade that can affect a player’s mindset at the most important point of the season. “You get the grades, and some guys, they didn’t get the grade that they want, so they’re pouting a little bit, and got to pick themselves up,” he said.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford described the role that conferences could play in the discussion. “I think it’s something that we would all have to do collectively,” Swofford said. “Both the NFL and Players Association would need to involved, as well. Those aren’t things that we can totally control.”
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey supported Saban’s effort to create a more reasonable decision-making process.
“I think he has talked about that more than just twice,” Sankey said. “To Nick’s credit, he’s not simply observing the problem. He’s worked to identify some solutions.”
Sankey said the SEC office has attempted to educate players and their families on the factors that contribute to a decision.
“We’ve communicated with our coaches on that and we’ve tried to provide education to coaches on how to educate young athletes on the draft,” Sankey said. “…I think we have to deal now with the structure that is in place. But the potential for future talks is high.”