CBSSports.com National Columnist

Think about the kids and support draft amnesty

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There's a problem with this column on the 2011 NFL Draft. I'll admit that up front. Without that problem, this column could've been something. It could've helped somebody. Maybe even saved somebody.

But the problem is, I'm too late. The NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, which means there isn't enough time for this idea to take root and spread and make the kind of change needed to help somebody, perhaps even save somebody.

I'm talking about draft amnesty for the 56 underclassmen who left behind college eligibility to enter the 2011 draft. I'm talking about a do-over. A mulligan. With the NFL in full lockout mode and the 2011 season looking less and less likely to start on time, if at all, there are 56 football players -- let's call them what they are: 56 young men -- with another option on the table.

Dion Lewis should be allowed to go back to college -- if he wants -- before the NFL Draft begins. (US Presswire)  
Dion Lewis should be allowed to go back to college -- if he wants -- before the NFL Draft begins. (US Presswire)  
That's my idea, anyway. Give those 56 young men the option of returning to school. Call it draft amnesty, because that's exactly what it would be. Most of those guys, maybe all of those guys, have received the kinds of benefits from agents that would wreck NCAA eligibility. They've received cars or cash or clothes, or all the above. Letting them back on the college football team would be unprecedented.

Big freaking deal.

Desperate times, people. Desperate times call for desperate actions, and this time here is desperate for most of those 56 young men. They left behind their college cocoon and entered a brave new world full of ... nothing. No signing bonus. No paycheck.

No degree. No job. No money.

This is a crisis, and the only way to not see it as a crisis is to take a hard line against professional athletes as a species, as if they're all the same. Which they're not. There's a major difference between, say, Damione Lewis and Dion Lewis. Damione Lewis is a defensive tackle for the Houston Texans, a 10-year veteran who has made millions. If he hasn't socked away enough money to get through this rainy day, well, shame on him.

Dion Lewis is different. It's about to monsoon on that poor kid.

He is, or was, a running back at the University of Pittsburgh. Dion Lewis entered the 2011 draft after his redshirt sophomore season. He's not considered a first-round draft pick, or even a second-day pick. He's projected to be chosen on the draft's third and final day, somewhere between rounds four and seven. Assuming he goes in the sixth round, Lewis would get a signing bonus between $50,000 and $100,000. Peanuts, in other words.

So while everyone waits for the lockout to end, how much walking-around money is an agent going to front Dion Lewis? Not much. Because to an agent, Lewis isn't worth much.

Guys like Dion Lewis, those are the guys my heart goes out to. They're the ones who need draft amnesty. Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Blaine Gabbert ... those guys will be fine. They stand to make so much money in their first contract that their agents will keep them afloat until it happens. A.J. Green isn't worrying about his next meal.

Dion Lewis? Receiver Darvin Adams of Auburn? Running back Stevan Ridley of LSU? I can hear their stomachs growling from here.

Give them draft amnesty, but make it a one-way street. Players have until, say, the day before the draft to withdraw and return to their college team. Once they withdraw, there would be no going back. Even if the lockout ends in early May, what's done would be done. The NFL would have to cooperate, of course, but my idea is that amnesty-seeking players couldn't turn pro (again) until 2012. If they don't like those conditions, fine. Stay in the draft. See how that works out. I can't save everybody.

Some people can't stay afloat, even with the wind in their sails. According to this 2009 Sports Illustrated story, 78 percent of former NFL players were bankrupt or close to it within two years of retirement. Why? Because the typical young pro isn't mature enough to keep an eye on his future, and because the typical NFL career isn't as long or lucrative as anticipated. The future comes in a hurry, and when it arrives, it smacks most players in the mouth.

As for active NFL players, well, it's getting ugly. According to this report at Yahoo, scores of NFL players are navigating the lockout by borrowing money at rates that would shame a loan shark. If paychecks don't start rolling in soon, we're going to see active NFL players going bankrupt left and right.

What about a guy like Dion Lewis? No degree, no paycheck. Guys like that are a statistic waiting to happen, and everybody knows it. So if we know it, let's do something about it. Draft amnesty, I tell you. Draft amnesty.

There are holes in this idea, of course. Usually during the writing phase I study my column idea from the other side, trying to anticipate and then shore up weak spots before you, helpful reader that you are, expose them on the message boards below. This column is different. This column has major issues. You know it. I know it.

NCAA eligibility for players who have pocketed thousands of dollars from an agent? Academic eligibility for players who may well have dropped out of school by now? That's crazy.

But it's compassionate. That's what I'm going for here. I'm going for compassion, although I don't feel compassionate. I feel like a fool. Because the only way for this to work would be for the NCAA and the NFL to see these 56 underclassmen as human beings.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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