High school football players must wait three years before they are eligible to enter the NFL Draft. The NCAA has historically been the only way for players to bridge that gap. However, college football's monopoly on post-secondary football talent could change very soon — thanks to the Pacific Pro Football League.
Spearheaded by a group of former NFL players, coaches, agents and media personalities, the Pacific Pro Football League (Pac Pro for short) hopes to be an alternative to college football. The plan is to provide recently-graduated high school players a paid alternative to college football.
According to USA Today, four teams based in Southern California will play an eight-game schedule in the football dead-zone from the first weekend in July to the last weekend in August. They expect to sign roughly 50 players per squad, each making a salary of around $50,000 per year that also includes a benefits package. Doesn't sound too bad for an entry-level job, does it?
The new players will also be encouraged to leverage endorsement deals. Pay players? Endorsements? This is NCAA blasphemy, and you can see why the players themselves might love it.
But how legit is this? We've seen other alternative football leagues fail before. What makes this one different?
Pac Pro's backers are credible names with a legitimate football backgrounds. Former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, former NFL star Ed McCaffrey (father of former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who you KNOW would have loved this option), current ESPN NFL analyst Adam Schefter, and Tom Brady's agent Don Yee are just a few of the names attached to the new venture. Credibility goes a long way, and clearly these folks have some pull within the NFL.
This is hugely important. Elite players wouldn't go this route if they thought it would mess up their shot at the NFL.
Overlooked high school players will be the target demographic for the Pacific Pro Football League. (Sean Labar/HERO Sports).
According to the USA Today, any player less than four years removed from high school would be eligible for Pac Pro, including college underclassmen who entered the NFL Draft early and were not selected. In the beginning at least, a majority of the league would be comprised of kids who were overlooked coming out of high school or chose not to go to college for various reasons.
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Now we have the basics, let's talk implications.
The most obvious positive is competition. The NCAA is no longer the only game in town, which will force them to improve their product or suffer for it. Basic economics — remove a monopoly and consumers benefit.
Many times, high school players get overlooked by major colleges and universities and don't have a chance to fulfill their dream of playing pro football. A lot of things can stand in their way:
- Bad high school grades
- Talented in HS, but not good enough for major college
- Kicked off FBS team for grades, trouble, other reasons
- Offers to play D2 or D3, but higher ambitions
- Thriving in college early, wants to test pro league ASAP
Maybe a high school player dominates under the Friday night lights, but he's a bit undersized and is known as a hot-head. His only offers are from D2 programs. He wants more. He dreams bigger. In a scenario like this, the Pac Pro would be ideal.
There are really talented players grinding at the JUCO level, or not playing college football at all because they had to get a job to support their family. Again, Pac Pro provides another option.
Former Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans dashes away from Notre Dame defenders. (VT Athletics).
It would also provide college players an alternative. Let's face it, some collegiate players don't really care about school. That's the last thing any athletic director wants to hear, but it's the stark reality.
Take 2016 Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans for example. Evans lit up the stat sheet at Trinity Valley Community college before transferring to Virginia Tech before the 2016 season. The now 22-year old had a stellar campaign, passing for 3,552 yards, 29 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Then two weeks ago Evans unexpectedly declared for the NFL Draft, even though most experts think he will go undrafted.
Pac Pro would have been a better option for Evans in 2016. He could have earned a few dollars while honing his skills in front of the NFL talent evaluators who will surely be focused on this league. Instead, he could be left out with no degree, no NFL contract, and very few prospects.
Evans' situation aside, how often do you hear about college football players getting arrested for stealing things or selling drugs? How often do coaches and boosters get busted for giving players money? The backlash is huge, but people don't realize how few options these players actually have. "They have it so good! Why would they mess that up?!" Because they're poor! It's not like they can get a job with school and football taking up 90% of their waking hours. A scholarship, while generous, doesn't have a cash value.
These guys need money to pay for things outside of school. Yes, they have room and board covered, and no, they don't have a lot of free time to spend money anyway, but they are still people. They still have wants. Most scholarship players are eligible for a stipend, but that only amounts to between $1,500-6,000 per year. Even with room and board covered, that's not much money. Pac Pro would give these guys a way to make money while they stay on course for the NFL.
But what about college?
Pac Pro isn't going to compete with college football — not at first. The top high school prospects in the country won't risk their chance to go pro with this experiment, so they'll continue to go to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and other known commodities.
But for others who might be less fortunate or just have different goals, Pac Pro is there. They'll be the first ones to populate the new league. Then, if and when one of these guys gets drafted, all bets are off. Pac Pro will compete with the NCAA for top-level talent.
There will always be kids who value education. There will always be kids who want the pageantry and pride that come with college football. But many just want the payday. Many just want the League.
As Shanahan said in the USA Today piece, "you've got all day to spend with football." That's the best way to prepare for the next level. Think about Pac Pro as an extension of the IMG Academy, the boarding school in Florida where elite high school players go to hone their skills. It's a paid professional training camp. Once the concept is proven, it will take off.
A Western Michigan flag bearer celebrates a Broncos touchdown earlier this season. (Western Michigan Athletics).
Inevitably, college programs across the country are going to buck at the idea. Will the league be powerful enough to sway a kid who might get a partial scholarship from Western Michigan? That's yet to be determined. Will the Pac Pro give D2 and D3 prospects a better option? Maybe.
Will the league get so popular that mega-talented FBS players decide to leave school early, spend a season playing for the Pac Pro, and then enter the NFL Draft? It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
JUCO is one area that could take a major hit from day one. Let's go back to Evans for a moment. After getting an initial scholarship to Air Force, Evans tore his ACL and got pushed to the back of the depth chart when he was finally healthy, then chose to leave.
If this league was around then, would Evans have chosen to play there over Trinity Valley Community College? The money and exposure would certainly be better. The Pac Pro literally cuts out the middle man.
In very broad strokes, JUCO players are almost all athletes who are disadvantaged in some way or another. Nobody dreams of playing for a JUCO. They end up there because bad grades, disciplinary issues, or under-performance put a halt on their FBS ambitions. The Pac Pro might seem like a better fit while JUCO ultimately suffers.
This thing is just getting started. Should be fun to see how it all plays out.