North Carolina football coach Mack Brown took the past few days to ponder Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's proposal that the NFL and NCAA should let football players declare for the NFL Draft at any point in their career.
Brown, who has 32 years of head coaching experience at the college level, came up with an interesting conclusion.
"People would say these guys aren't ready," Brown said on a conference call Monday. "Maybe Herschel Walker was ready. Maybe some of these guys were ready, and our system can give them that opportunity. That's something we should definitely look at moving forward."
Walker, who was voted the No. 1 college football player of all time as part of Sporting News' "CFB 150" series last year, is an interesting name to invoke. Walker starred at Georgia for three seasons before jumping to the upstart United States Football League (USFL), which allowed him to skip his senior season. The NFL did not allow three-year players to enter the draft at the time.
Brown's views are shaped by the times — and that includes the NCAA's recent rulings to allow players to benefit from use of their name, image and likeness. Brown said Harbaugh's proposal is another way to benefit the student-athlete on top of those rulings.
“If a player needs money, and that's a decision he's willing to make to go to college based on name, image and likeness, where he can make more money instead of where he wants to go to school, why don't we give him the choice to go to the NFL if he's ready to go and if the NFL wants him to go?” Brown said. “Basketball has done it for years.”
The NFL has not followed the same guidelines as the NBA with underclassmen. In 2003, Ohio State's Maurice Clarett sued the NFL in an anti-trust suit after trying to enter the NFL Draft after his sophomore season. Clarett later withdrew that lawsuit.
Harbaugh's proposal, however, would eliminate that. One of the arguments against is that it would lead to more high school players and underclassmen trying to enter the NFL before they were prepared, but Brown believes the number of players to test that would be small.
"I would think it wouldn't be a high number, but are we to keep that one?" Brown said. "I throw out the name Herschel Walker. He was one of the guys like that. Ricky Williams. If there are any of those guys that could make multi-millions of dollars either out of high school or after their first or second year; there are some guys out there now that are sophomores that could go to the NFL this year if that rule was more lenient."
Brown also said that would be the NFL's decision in the end, but the NBA has altered its eligibility practices. As of now, NBA players must be one season removed from high school before entering the league. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, however, said that rule could change in the near future.
Will college football and the NFL follow suit? It is something Brown is in favor of looking more into as the debate is sure to heat up.
"I'm just saying that if there is a young man out there (who) is a freakish type player, then I think we should give him the same opportunities that we've given basketball and let him look at it," he said.