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Steelers' Rooney encourages underclassmen to stay in school

The case to stay in school seems to be growing less convincing to college football players as the number of underclassmen who declare early for the NFL Draft rises steadily and significantly year after year.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney isn't giving up on stemming the tide, though.

After watching a record 98 underclassmen enter the draft pool this year, Rooney made his case to finish a four-year degree before exiting college in an editorial posted this weekend by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Making the pros is a long shot, but the rewards, even when success comes, are not worth losing the benefits of a college education when it is time to get on with life's work," Rooney writes.

Rooney, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, cites studies commissioned by the NFL Players Association "that show that players who finish college have longer careers and earn more money than those who don't."

So why does the number of underclassmen declaring for the draft keep growing?

Rooney writes in his editorial that most influences around college football players encourage them to stay in school -- their families, college coaches and NFL teams among them. He pins most of the blame for the rising number of early entries on agents "looking for quick rewards."

"While some players or parents may push for an early exit from college, the main force is an agent who tries to sell the player on quitting college so his free-agent clock -- and the prospect of huge paydays -- starts sooner," he writes.

Rooney points future prospects to the NFL Draft Advisory Board -- which gives players feedback on where they are likely to be drafted if they declare -- rather than agents for an honest assessment of what lies ahead for them in the draft.

"College players should not be encouraged to make decisions contrary to their long-term interests by people who are motivated by a desire for short-term, and often illusory, gains," he writes.

The case for staying in school has certainly been made before, but few in the NFL are as respected as Rooney, and rarely has the case to finish college been vocalized so strongly by someone with his level of clout.

Whether his words will be heeded by future prospects is another story. The potential allure of fame and fortune that an NFL career can bring is always going to be difficult to resist, even though it might be more difficult to attain than some young players realize.

Of course, the primary concern of proponents for athletes completing their college education isn't the Johnny Manziels and Jadeveon Clowneys of the world who are considered locks to be drafted early in the first round, although they would have likely been encouraged by Rooney to stay in school, too. The main targets of Rooney's pitch are those prospects closer to the fringe, who might get drafted in the late rounds or not at all. Their NFL careers could end quickly, or never start, and the harsh reality of entering the workforce without a college degree could leave them regretting the early-entry decision.

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