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What does the NFL owe College Football?

A little more than a week ago we saw the richest contract ever given to a rookie draft pick: 6 years, $72 million, with $41.7 million dollars in guaranteed money. No matter how good or bad Matthew Stafford plays, he will receive $41.7 million dollars. Stafford has skills, no doubt about that, but time will tell if he is an Elway/Montana/Manning, or a Leaf/Couch/A. Smith (that's Akili Smith, take a breath Alex-lovers).

The rookie-pay-scale is a topic that has become popular in the build-up-to and the wake after the draft, but the money-pit that is rookie talent is not the only place where money goes to die when it comes to the transition from college to the NFL. One rarely thinks about the cost involved in recruiting these players from high school, and developing them into professional-grade football players.

College football programs put millions of dollars into scouting and recruiting of high school players, equipment and coaching supplies (video equipment), and coaching salaries. While much of this can be covered by alumni donations, tuition and merchandising, it is still a heavy burden for a college to take on. What can be a bigger drain on the economics of a collegiate football program would be if a talented player leaves early to enter the draft. In these circumstances, the money spent on scouting, recruiting and developing the player does not get its full worth. Money spent on a player leaving school after his junior year is only 75% effective - that money was designed to build 4 (or 5 if redshirted) years of talent. (I'm not sure if you have heard, but the 49ers drafted some WR that left school a year early.... Some guy named Mike... Mike... something... I'm not sure, I didn't hear much about the draft at all....)

In this post, I plan on analyzing an argument made by Allen Barra from the Wall Street Journal who wrote an editorial on this topic, saying that the NFL (and NBA) should reimburse collegiate programs for students that decide to enter professional sports prior to completion of their four years of eligibility, and analyze a possible solution for this under-the-radar situation in professional sports.

After the jump: Should the NFL pay NCAA schools for players that become professionals early?

In addition, a team that recruits with the expectations that the talent they bring in will play at that school for four years might have a rotation for recruiting specific positions. If a school is long on talent at a specific position, they might not heavily recruit that position for a year or two. For example, Florida has an "excellent college QB" in Tim Tebow. Do you think that one year ago Urban Meyer had QB at the top of his recruiting list? Probably yes, but not a player that would be ready to enter the system immediately. Well what if, after the this Tebow-riffic season, Tim decided to enter the NFL draft? Florida Gator Football would be in a dill of a pickle (I've been waiting months to use that line).

How would that impact Florida Football economics? With a young, inexperienced QB that Florida would have to unexpectedly throw into their program, they might falter in the dominant SEC, and not make the National Championship game, the BCS, or a bowl game period! Teams that make these bowl games get scholarship money, and the bigger the game, the more money the school will get (this is why the non-BCS conferences like the WAC are trying to get rid of the BCS, so they can get a piece of that BCS money pie). Not to mention the lack of money spent by fans on jerseys, merchandise, tickets, etc, because of the superstar playing at their favorite school Now Florida has much less money to dedicate to recruiting, scouting, coaching, equipment, etc, and the program as a whole suffers because Tim Tebow wanted to be a big man and go to the NFL.

(Of course, this was all theoretical, and I mean no ill will towards the Florida Gators, I just know that TIm Tebow will never be anything in the NFL, but that's for another time...)

This is not a problem restricted to college football. We see collegiate basketball athletes leaving after one season to go to the NBA (and that was after college programs begged the NBA to put the rule in), which could be much more hurtful to a college b-ball program, financially. So what can be done to help fix this problem? Allen Barra from the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial on this topic, and suggests an interesting solution: The NFL (and NBA) foot the bill for the NCAA.

Barra suggests that for every player that leaves their college program early, a stipend be given from the team lucky enough to get the player to the college program the athlete came from. This way, the school can re-coup some of the money spent on the development of the now professional player (Note: the school will make a good amount of money from the success of the player/team prior to him leaving for the draft, I'm just saying they could have made more if the player stuck around for another year). . As for the NFL team, if they are already paying obscene amounts of money for the player, a little more shouldn't hurt right??? (/sarcasm)

Seriously though, this becomes a better, more viable plan if a rookie-pay scale comes into play. Teams can then use a fraction of the money they would have spent on unproven rookies on helping out the now hamstrung college programs losing some of their young talent.

But putting a program like this in place has its repercussions. College programs could begin using this as a tool for additional revenue by attempting to force out a junior player before he is ready for the NFL, or not providing the proper guidance and advice for the future of the player because of the potential NFL bonus tempting the coaches to ship the player out. In addition, many would argue that a program like this is unneccesary. There is no other system out there to develop talent prior to entry into the NFL (as opposed to the massively extensive minor-league system used in MLB), and by virtue of being the first home of Pro-Football talent, the NCAA gets all the perks that come with housing the future superstars of the NFL (media attention, merchandising, ticket sales, etc). Simply said, without the NFL, College Football might not get the national attention it gets right now. Isn't the NFL doing enough by giving college football programs across the country the chance to house future pro talent for 3-4 years, instead of using a different development system (such as the future UFL, or putting more stock into the now defunct NFL Europe)?

Is this idea/plan perfect? No. Did Barra put together a solid argument? Hellll no (if you didn't read the article, please do; its amazing what the WSJ lets slip through the cracks). However, doesn't the proverbial farm system for the NFL deserve some support from the most successful professional sports league today? In this day and age where everyone from big banks to liberal arts colleges have begun tightening their belts and pinching pennies, should the rich give back to the poor, and provide the financial mea culpa for taking talent that college football programs invested a large amount of time (and money) into? Or does college football live the good life as is, and should adapt to the potential early-departure of superstars on their team by performing more extensive scouting earlier, and more frequently?

Personally, I think the re-imbursement plan could be a good idea, but there are a LOT of things that need to be worked out (what about juniors drafted in the 5th/6th/7th rounds, or the UDFAs, will their schools be paid the same amount as someone drafted 1st overall?). But I turn to you Nation: what do you think about an NCAA-NFL pay-back system? Could it function at all? Is this the dumbest idea you've ever read (in that case, I'm sorry, I'll do what I can to give you your 10 minutes back)? What would need to happen/how would it need to be structured for it to work?