— For college football, the storm is coming. And it looks like everyone is running for the lifeboats.
It will change everything. But in the big picture, it will change nothing.
Even with the potential of nearly every promising draft-eligible junior fleeing for their NFL payday, even with possibly the largest loss of familiar All-American names that we have seen in the leave-early era, college football will survive.
In fact, it will thrive.
There’s a sense of panic about the 2010 NFL draft — or more specifically, uncertainty about how the new system of draft compensation will work in 2011 and beyond once the NFL has a new labor deal.
Grab your dollars now, boys, because a new day is coming. But this is largely an NFL issue.
It’s just a hiccup for college football. The rivalries won’t dry up. The marching bands will play on. Alumni will follow their teams just as passionately, no matter who is wearing the uniforms. New stars will be uncovered. SEC refs will continue to butcher games (just kidding, sort of).
But you can also bet this: More college football players than ever will make poor decisions. It’s a breeding ground for bad advice from agents. Remember, though, the draft isn’t expanding. There are still just 32 first-rounders.
Follow the money, but at your peril. One thing will not change. Players who aren’t good enough to make the NFL will be dropped, just as unceremoniously as before.
OK, some background.
As the NFL attempts to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with its players union, the 2010 draft has suddenly assumed the lawless feel of a dusty main drag from the Wild West.
There might not be a rookie salary system — or the incremental slotting of salaries — in 2010. Almost universally, a more stringent system of rookie compensation is expected for 2011, when, barring potential lockout or strike calamity, a new labor deal must be in place.
So the 2010 draft seemingly offers a window, a chance for any promising college junior to strike it rich(er), instead of rolling the dice on a senior season, then some draft uncertainty in 2011.
Those emotional news conferences — where Peyton Manning announces he’s returning to Tennessee or, more recently, where Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford says he’s coming back to Oklahoma — and the accompanying feel-good vibrations on campus?
Going, going, gone — at least for now.
Here’s another factor: Bradford and his Oklahoma tight end, Jermaine Gresham, looked like first-round picks last season, but both opted for a return to the Sooners. Then both suffered season-ending injuries.
Already, those occurrences had shaken the climate for promising underclassmen, who learned how quickly things can change with injuries.
Mix in the NFL’s labor uncertainty and there are fewer reasons for elite players to become seniors.
The No. 1-ranked Florida Gators could lose a half-dozen underclassmen to the draft (along with linebacker Brandon Spikes and quarterback Tim Tebow, who opted for a senior-season return, even after winning a national title).
Overall, the quarterback ranks could be thinned without the likes of Washington’s Jake Locker, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, Ole Miss’ Jevan Snead and Houston’s Case Keenum.
When considering the potential loss of running backs such as Cal’s Jahvid Best, Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer and USC’s Joe McKnight, along with wide receivers such as Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant and Illinois’ Arrelious Benn, the skill positions could take a big hit.
And that doesn’t account for another flood of elite defensive players, such as Tennessee’s Eric Berry, Florida’s Carlos Dunlap, Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, Alabama’s Rolando McClain and Penn State’s Navorro Bowman.
Check out any mock draft. It’s early, but eight of the first 10 picks will be juniors, guaranteed. Up to three-quarters of the first-round picks will be juniors. It could be an exodus for the ages. But also consider the overall development of the sport.
“High-school quarterbacks are more prepared to enter college than ever before,’’ former Dallas Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt said. “With all the seven-on-seven leagues, with all the spread offenses, with how much specialization there is and the year-round nature of football now, it’s different than it used to be.’’
College football still has one distinct advantage over its sporting counterparts. It’s the NFL’s only farm system and players must stay for three seasons before considering a jump.
In basketball, it’s one and done. In baseball, you can sign out of high school or junior college. In hockey, promising junior-league players are constantly at the top of the draft.
“I’ve talked to so many guys who say once they go to the league, they really miss college football and wish they would’ve stayed longer,’’ Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s different up there.’’
And apparently, it’s going to get even more different.
Last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league’s rookie pay scale was “ridiculous’’ and “there’s something wrong with the system.’’
Specifically, he was reacting to the five-year, $57.5-million contract awarded to the first pick in the 2008 draft, Michigan offensive lineman Jake Long who went to the Miami Dolphins. It wasn’t a commentary on Long’s abilities, but rather a concern at the philosophy of given huge contracts to unproven players, some of whom never make it in the league.
The NFL will still be an extremely lucrative career for the gifted players. Like always, many of those players will leave college football before their eligibility has been exhausted.
We’re about to see that number increased, maybe dramatically.
But it will be a blip. A hiccup. College football will survive and thrive, as always.