Jim Harbaugh would like to see some changes made in college football, ones he believes will benefit the student-athletes.
For too long, Harbaugh believes, those that have been making the rules have been the only ones to benefit, and that rarely means the players on the field. That led the Michigan coach to pen an open letter on Friday to the football community setting forth a set of proposals for discussion, including allowing an undrafted underclassmen to return to school, giving players the freedom to declare for the draft at any point and ensuring that those that leave early will be allowed to return to school at some point to complete their degree at the university’s expense.
On Friday evening, Harbaugh joined former Michigan and NFL standout Jon Jansen on his “In the Trenches” podcast to talk about his proposal.
“With what’s going on right now, there’s people with time to think about this and plan long term,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what I’m excited about and I hope that it generates discussion. I welcome that. I want this to be talked about. Let’s have all concerned parties weigh in on this and give their opinion, people that care about football, care about intercollegiate football, like we do here. We’re supposed to care about student-athletes and their families. We love and care about them, so let’s have a discussion about it. We’ve got the time to do it.
“I’ve been in college football, pro football and the way the rules are set up, it’s great for the NFL. Rules are such that they get to have their cake and eat it, too. For colleges, they have their cake and eat it, too. I wanted to put a proposal together for the student-athletes and their families to be the ones to have their cake and eat it too.”
As Harbaugh explained on the podcast, the rules being applied today don’t necessarily fit. And while many players might not be in a position to leave school after a year or two, some are, and why should the college game or the NFL keep them from doing that.
“If it comes like it did for me with five years in college and then a pro career, that’s fine,” Harbaugh said. “That timeline might be better for someone to start college and then have their pro career and then come back and getting their degree. Just having those options, putting their own career, their education and their own fate in their hands and not dictated timelines by rules.”
That freedom to make the best decision for the player and their family is important to Harbaugh, but he also believes there should be the opportunity to return to school if a player that leaves early goes undrafted. The same theory applies to someone who’s career is short, which many in the NFL tend to be.
“Right now, rules are if the young man declares for the draft, his college eligibility is done, he cannot play anymore,” Harbaugh said. “Then he goes to the draft and he’s not drafted or his career is very short, or there’s no career at all, he’s not able to come back to college football and play. A lot of universities aren’t picking up the expense of the continuing the education. You had to make a decision and you don’t know how it’s going to play out and this makes it more fact-driven.
“If you’re drafted, you’re drafted and then you start your professional career and know that you finish your education when your pro career is over. That’s how it helps. There’s more peace of mind there and it’s more fact-driven.”
Harbaugh said his proposal has nothing to do with the rules on players earning off their name, image and likeness likely being relaxed, but he believes they go hand in hand. All are ways to allow the players and their families to have more of a say in their college careers and potential professional careers.
“This isn’t something I’ve thought about for the last year, this is years in the making,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something we talked about — having a voice at the table. The NFL has a voice at the table, there’s no doubt that the NCAA has a voice at the table, athletic administrators and coaches have a voice at the table, school presidents have a voice at the table. Student-athletes and their families don’t. That’s why this proposal was written, to give them a voice at the table.”