Bielema: Allow undrafted underclassmen to return to school

Bret Bielema would like to see undrafted underclassmen be allowed by the NCAA to return to college to resume their playing eligibility.

Under NCAA rules, underclassmen forfeit their remaining eligibility upon entering the draft.

The Arkansas coach was asked about the topic Tuesday during an interview on theĀ Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly radio show, and said he's not only considered possibilities for a rule change, but he's surveying opinions from other coaches on potential solutions as well. Bielema pointed to one of his own early exits this year, undrafted offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, as an example of a player who would have benefited from a return to school.

"I haven't touched base with (Auburn coach) Gus (Malzahn) yet, but Gus had two that didn't get drafted. Dan (Mullen) had a couple at Mississippi State. Ohio State had a couple as well," Bielema said. "Those coaches, I'm reaching out to them and trying to put together some collective thoughts on how to approach it. Now, some kids maybe had to move on for academic reasons or personal reasons ... But if you have a guy like Denver (Kirkland) who's on progression to graduate, is doing the right things and just needs another year ... ."

Bielema also noted the draft outcomes for former Razorbacks Alex Collins, who was chosen by the Seahawks this year, and Darius Philon, a sixth-round pick of the Chargers last year. They each exited Arkansas as an underclassman.

"Alex (Collins) could be in the same category. I'm glad he got taken, but I know he was planning on the third or second round (instead of the fifth). That's millions. Remember Darius Philon? (He) goes in the middle of the sixth round (last year). If he came back and played for us last year, he probably would have been a second-rounder and a very strong possibility of (being) a first-rounder, the way those D-tackles were going off the board. He's probably lost, between last year's draft and this year's draft, somewhere between $10-14 million that he will never, ever see again. That's crazy."

Bielema's idea, of course, would act squarely against efforts to reduce the number of underclassmen applying for early draft eligibility. The possibility of going undrafted compels some players to stay in school. Two years ago, in an effort to reduce the number of underclassmen who enter the draft, the NFL altered its grading system for those who apply for feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. If players were allowed to return to NCAA football if undrafted, the number of underclassmen applying for early eligibility would surely soar.

It's also difficult to imagine college coaches signing off on the prospect of spending four months, including National Signing Day and spring practice, wondering which underclassmen would be back in the fall and which would not.

Then again, it's possible coaches would be willing to deal with the uncertainty if it meant potentially getting one or more of their top players back.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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