Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is never afraid to go out on a limb and propose new ideas that he feels will make college football better. His latest idea is a big one. Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly press conference that he is in favor of players being able to leave for the NFL Draft after their freshman and sophomore years, but return to school if they go undrafted.
"They can be drafted after their freshman year. They can be drafted after their sophomore year, their junior year, their senior year," he said via the Detroit Free Press. "I would also make a rule that, if they weren't drafted, they could return to college ... that would be what I would suggest and propose. And you have examples in other sports. You have hockey. You have baseball. You have basketball."
It seems simple on paper (or into a microphone), and goes along with the wave of momentum that would give college players more freedom and benefits such as the name, image and likeness bills that have been proposed and passed in states around the country. It would allow players who don't want to play under the NCAA's rules (which are likely to be modified soon) to test the NFL waters while still keeping the college door open to finish their degrees. To put it more simply -- it would allow the player to choose what's best for him at any given time.
Harbaugh cites examples in other sports that do allow players to come back and retain their eligibility, although it is unclear if he means that they could return and still play or simply finish their coursework. There are some giant hurdles that would have to be cleared in order for football players to return to play in college. There already is one National Signing Day in December and another in February, both of which take place before the NFL Draft Combine. College football then has its entire spring practice sessions prior to the NFL Draft itself.
Returning and regaining the eligibility to play seems highly unlikely, though. What would happen to those players who stay with the team after a handful of players come back after not hearing their names called during the draft? How would coaches manage their rosters with 85-player scholarship limits for five months only to have several players -- most of which would likely be key contributors -- fall back into their laps in early May? In the end, that would be a coaching problem, so it's likely Harbaugh is speaking from a pure educational standpoint here.