Count former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, now a college football analyst on Fox Sports, among those siding with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s proposals to enhance player rights as he presented last week in an open letter to the college football community.
Harbaugh has advocated for college football players repeatedly, most recently being outspoken on allowing a one-time transfer without penalty and also supporting Name Image and Likeness (NIL) legislation.
“As much as I sometimes get challenged on whether I agree with Coach Harbaugh or not, I thought it was a great letter,” Meyer said during a Fox College Football online discussion Tuesday. “I thought there were some great points into it.”
In his open letter, Harbaugh proposed that a player can declare for the NFL Draft after any season – currently, the NFL restricts draft eligibility to those with a minimum three years of football. If he's not taken in the first 224 picks of the draft, the player could choose to return to college with his eligibility intact if he has not signed with an agent and received money, or he could sign an NFL free-agent contract and move on.
Harbaugh’s second proposal offers the player who leaves college before graduating and signs an NFL contract the ability to complete his degree during or after his pro career. The university would pay for the education based on how long he played in college. Harbaugh uses as an example a player who completed one year of college is entitled to a year of additional paid schooling. Also, a player who completed four years in college also can receiving one year of fully funded education.
The third proposal allows a player and his family to consult with lawyers and agents before signing a pro contract as long as he doesn’t receive compensation.
There are other considerations that Harbaugh mentioned to further discussion on how best to improve the college football player experience, including five years of eligibility without a redshirt. He also believes the rule limiting programs to a combined maximum of 25 scholarships annually for incoming freshmen and transfers should be eliminated.
“There’s actually a group of coaches that have been having conversation about, keep pro, pro, keep college, college,” Meyer said. “Any time a player wants to go test the markets and go become a professional athlete, go do it.”
Meyer used former OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott as an example. As a sophomore playing in the 2014 national playoff semifinal game against Alabama, Elliott had 20 carries for 230 yards, including two touchdowns. His last score came on an 85-yard run in the fourth quarter. Ohio State won that game, 42-35, and went on to win the national championship.
“Zeke Elliott was an unknown until he put his foot in the ground and ran 85 yards against Alabama,” Meyer said. “His value went from zero to astronomical. He should be allowed to go to the NFL right after that. He should.
“If an athlete wants to go pro, go pro.”
Meyer also liked Harbaugh’s thoughts on allowing players the option of returning if they’re not drafted and also paying for the education of players who have gone on to the NFL.
“Jim Harbaugh is saying, if they go one year, they get one year (of paid education) – I thought that was pretty well thought out,” Meyer said. “The last thing he said, I thought it was tricky, if you say they’re allowed to come back if they don’t go in the top 224, which I think that’s pretty appealing. However, how does a college coach manage his numbers now? His answer was, eliminate the 25 (scholarship) hard rule. It’s a very well thought out letter.”