I honestly hadn't realized this would be considered a new idea, but here we are.
Bret Bielema recently discussed an idea on the Bo Mattingly show, in which he proposed an option for undrafted underclassmen, such as Denver Kirkland, to be allowed to return to school.
"I haven't touched base with Gus (Malzahn) yet, but he had two that didn't get drafted. Dan (Mullen) did as well. Ohio State had a couple," Bielema said. "Those coaches, I'm reaching out to them and trying to put together some collective thoughts on how to approach it. Now, some kids maybe had to move on for academic reasons or personal or their own story. But if you have a guy like Denver who's on progression to graduate, is doing the right things and needs another year (can we change something?)"
You know this is serious if Bielema is even going to Malzahn for ideas and support.
There are a couple of things that could be pretty tricky about this. Many have supported basketball's new system, in which players are now able to participate in the NBA Combine and workout for teams for a few weeks after before ultimately deciding whether or not to return to school, while also acknowledging the system can make it awkward for coaches who need to fill their rosters without knowing which of their players may or may not turn professional. And basketball teams only have 13-scholarship rosters. Imagine how much more challenging it would be with football-sized rosters.
Also, it would be interesting to see how the NCAA would deal with players who sign with agents and go all the way through the draft process, likely receiving gifts and money in the process with the expectation that they'll soon be professional, and then have to go back under the NCAA's guidelines. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it would be new ground for them to cover.
But ultimately, if we're really concerned mostly with what's best for students, why would we ever want to prohibit someone from returning to school? Even if they did make a mistake by deciding to declare for the draft? Granted, many players will be fine with signing free agent deals or simply don't want to return to school, but for those that do, why keep them from it? What good does it do?
And as a Razorback fan, this isn't a new concept. It's been on my radar ever since Scotty Thurman wasn't drafted in 1995.
Bielema also brought up the idea of underclassmen, such as Alex Collins, who are drafted below what they expected to also be allowed to return to school. While I'm all for giving the players every option, this seems like it would be much trickier to pull off.
I have a hard time imagining NFL teams willing to spend draft picks on players who might turn them down to return to school, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if they pushed back against that idea pretty strongly if it ever got to that point. Of course, that is what they do in baseball.