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Saban, Bielema want changes to underclassmen system

Alabama's Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema took aim on Tuesday at policies regarding underclassmen and early NFL draft entry.

Each coach held a press conference at the SEC's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., and was asked about the idea of allowing underclassmen that go undrafted to return to school. Underclassmen forfeit their remaining eligibility upon entering the draft, per NCAA rules.

They each expressed support for ideas that they believe will allow underclassmen to make better decisions regarding whether to apply for early entry into the NFL draft or stay in school.

Saban said he's doing research with the NFL and 5-6 other college coaches on potential reforms to policies regarding underclassmen who are considering early draft entry. Bielema likes the system the NCAA has implemented for student-athletes pursuing NBA careers, which allows underclassmen to test the draft waters without forfeiting their eligibility, and spoke out on the issue earlier this month.

Of course, allowing underclassmen to return to school after testing the draft waters would be at odds with the effort to reduce the number of underclassmen who apply for early draft entry.

Saban said he thinks implementing such a system for football players would be hard due to the volume of players that would be in limbo.

"First of all, you'd probably have twice as many guys wanting to see where they're going to get drafted," Saban said. "So you'd have twice as many guys who would probably end up missing spring practice. You wouldn't know until May what your numbers were."

Saban offered the suggestion of an NFL Scouting Combine-style junior day that would be held on college campuses around the end of spring practice, in which underclassmen could be evaluated by NFL teams a year before they are draft-eligible.

Thirty of 96 early-entry prospects were not selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, including former Arkansas offensive lineman Denver Kirkland.

Bielema said he believes Kirkland and former Arkansas RB Alex Collins, who was selected in the fifth round of this year's draft by the Seahawks, would not have decided to leave school early had they known what their draft fates would be.

"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 he believes inaccurate evaluations from the NFL Draft Advisory Board have contributed to underclassmen going undrafted.

The NFL made changes to its draft-feedback system two years ago with the goal of reducing the number of underclassmen who apply for early entry.

Barring an NCAA policy change regarding eligibility for football players after they declare for the draft, an idea like the junior day might be the best that underclassmen can hope for when it comes to getting more feedback before deciding whether to leave school or stay put.

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