SEC coaches Saban, Bielema want to change NFL draft rules

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema would like to see a major change to rules regarding NFL draft entry.

This one is far from a slam dunk.

The high-profile coaches said Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference's annual meetings they would like to see underclassmen who leave school early have the option of returning after testing their prospects for the NFL draft - similar to what happens in college basketball.

Under current NCAA rules, once underclassmen declare for the NFL draft, they lose their remaining eligibility.

''The NFL doesn't want players too early that aren't ready. And the NCAA, us guys, don't want (them) to leave too early,'' Bielema said. ''It makes too much sense to not have it happen. How are we going to get there? People got to communicate. It's probably way above my ... but I'll speak out on it anytime.''

The NCAA changed its rules regarding basketball players last year, giving prospects who declare for the NBA draft more time to evaluate their draft stock before deciding whether to return to school. More than 120 players declared for the NBA draft after this past season. Fifty-seven ended up returning to school.

In football, 30 of 96 early-entry prospects were not selected in the 2016 NFL draft, including former Arkansas offensive lineman Denver Kirkland. Those 30 didn't have the option of going back to school once they declared for the draft in mid-January.

Bielema believes Kirkland and former Arkansas running back Alex Collins, who was selected in the fifth round by Seattle, would not have left school early had they known they would slide so far in the draft.

''If (an underclassman) could sit down with NFL people or personnel people that are making the decisions firsthand, I think it could be a great resource,'' Bielema said. ''And you know what? It works out better for everybody. Graduation rates to go up. Success rates go up. Failure rates go down. Kids are in school longer. Kids are in preparation to be in the NFL to play longer.''

Saban said a committee of college coaches and NFL personnel has been examining the issue.

Saban and Bielema believe a combine for underclassmen could help solve the problem. It would be similar to pro days for juniors and seniors and would allow NFL scouts to better evaluate those players.

''If you ask the NFL, how can we maintain trust with our players when you're giving us inaccurate information? Their response is `We don't know enough about the guys to really give you the information because all we can really go on is film evaluation,''' Saban said. ''That's why we have a combine and all these other things. We want accurate information when that's all said and done in December.''

The timing could be the tough part, with national signing day for colleges in early February being a potential hurdle.

''Well, we're in our first year of the new basketball reality. I've talked to a few of our coaches who have had the experience. I think the feedback's been positive,'' SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. ''The young people have real-time, very valid information on their draft status. And they know up front not to compromise their eligibility from an NCAA standpoint. ... There is conversation about how might you accomplish this same outcome in football.

''That is a little bit different. The timing of the end of the semester, when the draft occurs, preparation for the draft, what type of feedback might be there. The NCAA could change with no alteration of the NBA's draft timeline, practically speaking. I'm not sure that happens from an NFL standpoint. It's a good idea. There's likely some thought and work that needs to be contributed to see if that good idea can become a reality.''

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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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