The National Football League, in conjunction with college football and the NFL Players Association, is considering a series of actions that would discipline players who are busted in college for violating NCAA rules, then skip to the pros unscathed.
A variety of league sources tell me the NFL would like to enact fines and possibly even suspensions for a player once he enters the NFL if that player was found to have broken rules while in college.
Under new rules, NCAA outlaws like Reggie Bush wouldn’t be able to enter the NFL scot-free. (Getty Images)
Such an action would be unprecedented in American professional sports. While it seems unlikely to survive legal challenges, it’s an indication the NFL sees the increasing college scandals as a threat to its image. The main concern some in the NFL have is that college players have no fear of punishment once they reach the NFL so they behave with impunity on the college level.
The idea is that such rules would make players think twice about accepting impermissible benefits and then running to the NFL.
The NFL, union and NCAA had discussions several months ago regarding how to stop agents from infiltrating campuses and targeting players. Eventually the discussions expanded, one league official explained, beyond the agents and runners and into disciplining players who run afoul of NCAA rules after they enter the NFL.
“The agents and the runners are a significant problem,” one official explained. “But so are the players. One thing we want to stop is a player believing he can take impermissible benefits and then use the NFL as an escape hatch.”
One potential proposal is that if it’s determined that a player, after he is drafted and subsequently makes an NFL roster, was shown to have violated NCAA rules, the player would be fined by the NFL. The money would go to paying the school’s legal fees or to a scholarship program. Similarly, if the NCAA violation is particularly egregious, officials say, a player could be suspended by the league.
The potential amounts of the fines and length of suspensions are unknown at this point and league officials stressed that no punishment would be enacted without due process.
Former USC star Reggie Bush was presented as an example of how the new rules would work. The NCAA last year said Bush had received improper benefits and USC had to vacate its 2004 championship. Bush would have been in line to be suspended by the NFL.
Suspensions present obvious problems, with one of them being such an action wouldn’t just hurt the player, it would hurt the entire team. The NFL, NCAA and union officials were already in discussions months ago before the latest college scandal at the University of Miami, but the talks were halted once the lockout heated up. More talks are likely to start again soon.
At the time, the union expressed skepticism about supporting such measures. This is the other difficulty in getting something like this enacted as I’m uncertain if the union would support it. Yet one NFLPA official who confirmed the talks said they are open to having continuing dialogue with the NFL and NCAA.
Some general managers and personnel men in football believe the college scandals are beginning to damage the image of the NFL. Please, refrain from rolling your eyes for a moment, and listen to what they mean.
The NFL has its own behavioral issues with players, no question, yet the team personnel I’ve spoken to have a point. The cleaner a player’s reputation is coming into the NFL the better off it is for the NFL. The more the league is seen as a lifeboat for players who break NCAA rules the worse it is for pro football.
The relationship is of course symbiotic. Bush used the Saints for money and football and the Saints used Bush to help them win a Super Bowl. But having a player give back his Heisman Trophy and stand at the center of a case in which he basically cratered an entire program hurts the image of Bush as well as the NFL’s.
Whatever happens, it seems the Miami scandal, one of the worst in college football history, might be the tipping point. It might be the time when college football, often willfully blind, finally understands the system needs to be changed.
And the NFL is no longer willing to be a fallback league for rule breakers.