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NFL on verge of changing 'May 16 rule' for rookie players

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A rule that has frustrated NFL coaches and left some rookies behind for years appears to be on the verge of changing.

The NFL and the American Football Coaches Association are working toward a deal to overhaul the so-called "May 16 Rule" -- better known as the policy that has prevented rookies from participating in football activities if their schools were in session, regardless of whether they were still enrolled -- starting in 2018, sources with knowledge of the plan told NFL.com.

The league's competition committee was advised of the plan in a conference call Tuesday, one of the sources said. No vote is required to pass the change, but the plan is still being finalized, another source said.

All rookies in the past have been allowed to participate in rookie minicamps. But those from schools with classes still in session -- many of them from the Pac-12 -- have been barred from participating in many other spring activities, including organized team activities and minicamps, until their schools' exams were complete. This year, that included two top-10 picks from Stanford, Solomon Thomas (49ers) and Christian McCaffrey (Panthers), who told reporters he'd like to see the rule change "or at least make some exceptions."

Under the new rule, all rookies would be permitted to join their teams on a mutually agreed upon date, on or around May 16. If a rookie is still enrolled and his final exams are not complete, those still taking online classes would be allotted time to complete them; those enrolled in traditional classes would be allowed to return to campus for exams; and graduate students and those who completed coursework early could fully participate in offseason activities.

Rookies would still be able to stay in school through their final exams, and club employees will be forbidden by rule from telling a player offseason activities (AKA the Rookie Football Development Program) are mandatory or persuading them to leave school. Teams' player engagement directors and each school's academic advisors would jointly monitor players' academic progress. Players would continue to be permitted to participate in commencement ceremonies, too.

The NFL implemented the rule in 1990 "to protect student-athletes who have remained in school to complete their schoolwork," rather than pressuring players to drop out of school and join their new clubs, according to the league's football operations website. However, none of the small number of players impacted last year was even enrolled in classes, one of the people said. The NFL and AFCA have been working together to find a sensible solution.

The NFL's operations website said players from six schools with exams after June 1 were affected last year: Stanford, Washington, Northwestern, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA.

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