Idea of not inviting players on academic suspension to NFL Combine is nothing but damage control

Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

In a move that's open for legal challenge at best - and laughable at worst - the NFL is planting seeds in the media they are considering not allowing players who receive academic suspensions while in college at the annual NFL Scouting Combine.

Playing even for one season in the NFL requires the presence of the rarest of the rare athletic ability, which includes, but is not limited to, strength, speed, power, flexibility, endurance and pain tolerance. While there are examples of those who do not necessarily have those traits, it clearly isn't something that can be done by just anyone.

Management of those players is handled by those who study the game at a level usually reserved for field commanders in times of war.

The ability to prepare to play one NFL game is an admirable accomplishment from the perspective of someone who appreciates the fruits of hard labor, physically, mentally and emotionally.

But the league itself is run by shifty spin doctors who trivialize those efforts for the sake of promoting a false public image - or at the very least washing their hands clean of a statistically small portion of their population.

In wake of a recent rash of arrests by NFL players, commissioner Roger Goodell is facing yet another public relations crisis, and yet again, he's hunting flies with mouse traps.

CBS Sports, as well as several other outlets, reported Monday the NFL is considering excluding collegiate players who are deemed academically ineligible from the league's Scouting Combine - held annually as a precursor to the NFL Draft so scouts can gather and get a first-hand look at eligible draft prospects.

This is being done in an effort to send a message the league wants to somehow reduce the amount of undesirables that are allegedly now filling their ranks; as if one's success or lack thereof in History 101 somehow prepares him to play the game of football.

Or perhaps more to the point, a prospective player's character is determined by his classroom success.

This is nothing more than good ol' fashioned spin doctoring with zero chance of even coming close to implementation. It also further strengthens the otherwise useless link between the NCAA and the NFL.

There was a discussion on this site not long ago about the NFL's unprecedented decision to suspend Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, thus upholding an NCAA-based punishment for his actions when he was at Ohio State. Rarely is the connection between the NFL and the NCAA a molded reality as opposed to a series of handshake agreements (i.e. the NFL playing on Sunday and not Saturday and players not being eligible for the NFL draft until after the third year from a player's high school high school graduating class).

The latest seed planted into the minds of NFL fans is aimed at giving off the impression the league feels there is an issue regarding the level of character in its employees, and they are going to do something about it - even if it's, at best, very questionable from a legal perspective, and ultimately, will do nothing more than trivialize their own product.

For argument's sake, let's just say reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson was ruled academically ineligible over his final semester at Oklahoma. Is the league actually suggesting they'd run the risk of keeping a person who's clearly going to be an outstanding football player (and outstanding citizen, outside of a few speeding incidents) down in terms of scouting access? And even if they did follow through with this sham of an idea, is that going to prevent teams from drafting him?

All this will end up doing is giving owners more of a reason to not dig into the background of a player - things found deeper than their success in the classroom - and take more chances on players with character concerns.

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was considered a first round prospect at one point during the evaluation process leading into the 2012 NFL Draft. He performed terribly at the Combine that year, and by some accounts, interviewed even worse. He ended up being undrafted, but earned a starting job with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent.

If he wasn't academically eligible, the argument could have been made, in all irony, he would have been a first round pick.

However this is sliced up, the most obvious conclusion is this is nothing more than a seed planted in the laptops of national media writers during the deadest point of the NFL calendar to give off the suggestion the league is not just concerned with the issue, but is in a position to do something about it.

While there's no reason to feel they aren't concerned about the problem, this particular solution is geared at convincing the most gullible fans the league can actually do something about it.

This says nothing of the fact the NFL has an entire process to help get players who find themselves in trouble one way or another into the league - it's called the Supplemental Draft, and it takes place this week without so much as a mention to eliminating that in the future.

If Aaron Hernandez, now on trial for homicide, being drafted in the fourth round (far from initial projections of being a first day pick) isn't enough to deter players from not acting like chowderheads when they're in school, how does a player simply remaining eligible in college change any of that? Hernandez wasn't academically ineligible. Amid rumors he was named as the gunman in a 2007 shooting in Gainesville, he still kept off the public radar for three seasons in the NFL while earning a large extension by a team that's perhaps blindly assumed to be a bastion of character development in the league.

Even the mighty Patriots swung and missed badly on a low-character player. Perhaps the issue, as the league is trying to assert, isn't that Patriots owner Bob Kraft was "duped." Maybe the issue here is they can't avoid players with character concerns, because, like Burfict in Cincinnati, the appeal of getting a talented player and paying him the league minimum while that player performs better than players making 10 times as much is too much to avoid.

None of these things have anything to do with his academic success. And if it does, maybe the league should look at the fact it currently has at least two head coaches - Seattle's Pete Carroll and Philadelphia's Chip Kelly - who bailed their academic institutions just as the NCAA's gavel fell announcing sanctions against the programs they oversaw. Ohio State's head coach Jim Tressel, waited an agonizing four months before accepting a consulting position with the Indianapolis Colts.

So much for academic integrity.


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