The Impact of Impermissible Benefits on the NFL Draft


October 4, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (94) celebrates after sacking Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb (4) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated Arizona 17-3. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

One of the themes of this college season has been the concept of impermissible benefits.  Starting with Johnny Manziel and his signature and that pouring into the current accusations against Oklahoma State and a few SEC programs, this is always a hot topic in college football but it transitions to the NFL and whether or not players should be penalized in the NFL for infractions that are found out after the fact.  With the Terrelle Pryor situation, there is precedent for the NCAA to put pressure on the NFL to act and it having an impact.  From an NFL Draft standpoint, it really depends on what the benefit is in terms of whether or not it will have an impact on their draft value as some have no impact whatsoever and some have a larger impact than some realize.

Money is the least impactful benefit that a player can have.  Unless the situation is found out while they are in college, where it has an impact on the amount of games they play, it does not matter.  And when it comes to the games, if a player is graded out as a first round pick, they are still going in the first round.  This was made extremely clear by the situation at North Carolina when defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, and wide receiver Greg Little all missed an entire season due to contact with NFL agents and allegedly taking money.  Those allegations stepped up in the case of Little where facts and figures came out this week about the money he received.  While another season would have helped their development, especially in the case of Little who would have only been in his second season since making the switch from running back to wide receiver, the NFL did not care.  Quinn was selected in the first half of the first round while Austin and Little were both selected in round 2.  Austin was a huge bust for the Giants, Little is trying to find his way on the Browns, but Quinn is one of the best young defensive ends in the NFL with the Rams and part of a devastating duo with Chris Long.

The reason money does not have an impact is because it becomes a total non-factor in the NFL.  Taking money in college may be against the rules, but that becomes irrelevant when it comes to the NFL.  They go from taking money to play football to playing football for money.  The issue resolves itself.  As a result, the NFL does not care about it.

Johnny Manziel’s taking money in exchange for his autographs does not matter when it comes to the NFL.  The questions of judgment when it comes to some of the other things this past offseason and concerns over potential substance abuse matter.  And they will be huge whenever Manziel goes into the NFL Draft.  The fact that he got paid and missed a half of football against Rice is unimportant.

Getting grades or having other people do the school work for a player has more impact than people might realize.  It only really matters when the situation is found out in college, but NFL teams have tremendous assets at their disposal to look into these situations and a lot of things are discovered by the NFL long before they ever become public.  For instance, the information about Tyler Bray taking money while he was at Tennessee is not a new revelation for a number of people with access to people in the know.  This accusation came out this week on a large scale, but Ben Allbright, an NFL Draft evaluator, now working for the Bleacher Report, had mentioned this on Twitter back in January.  He did not pull it out of thin air.

When it comes to school work and grades, it makes teams extremely nervous when players cheat or take the easy way out of the situation.  The reason is relatively simple.  As much as they may not be taking Psych 101 or Humanities, they are doing work and quite a bit of studying.  Granted, there are people and players who may not care about their normal school work but when it comes to football, they really grind it out and know everything they need to know and more.  Still, it makes NFL teams nervous and they tend to dig deeper and try to find out more in regards to the kid.  Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots tend to really prefer players that have gotten their college degree.  It does not mean that underclassmen are out of the question, but the sense is that these kids went to college, were able to excel at football and balance a class load and finish what they started.  If they can do that, they can handle the workload the NFL and their team in particular demands.

College Football is the golden goose for the NFL when it comes to developing talent.  The NFL does not pay money into college football compared to the tens of millions of dollars that Major League Baseball pays into its minor league system.  College Football also does an incredible job of promoting its talent so that when players come into the league, they are ready to be stars and bring a ton of interest when they come.  Players like Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck come into the NFL with a ton of excitement and hype; almost to the point where there is no chance they can live up to them.  Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel, sink or swim, will come into the league as monstrous celebrities and stars without the NFL paying a cent.

As a result, there is a certain amount of pressure the NCAA can exert on the NFL because both the NFL and NCAA want to the NCAA to exist and be healthy.  The NFL does what it can, but the NCAA looks largely incompetent with how it polices the programs in college football.  When the NCAA actually manages to be led into a situation by the media and find something, they try to make it stick.  So when they suspended Terrelle Pryor for what would have been his senior year and he promptly went into the Supplemental Draft, they looked to the NFL to make their punishment stick.  The NFL did and Pryor came into the league with a suspension.

In the event that the NCAA comes upon these types of situations in the future where they catch players taking impermissible benefits, they may use this as a precedent to have the NFL act as the police they seem incapable of being.  If the NCAA can get the NFL to punish players as they come into the league, it could potentially have a minor impact on draft prospects.  While it might not be a deal breaker, Pryor missed a significant amount of time for the tattoos and selling memorabilia.  If the NCAA catches something big like the alleged payments players at SEC schools by agents and catch someone current, the penalty could end up being significant.  If a player is going to miss half a season or even a full season, it could have a big impact on a player’s status, especially if that player is a potential first rounder.  The NCAA would love nothing more than for the NFL to lay down punishments that act as a real deterrent for taking these types of benefits.

The problem with that situation is that it probably will not work.  While the NFL would punish them on the way into the league, should this come to pass, 20 year old kids who have more money flashed in front of them than they have ever seen in their lives are going to take it, regardless of the penalties in the future.  This is especially the case for players coming from financial hardship where that money could make a big difference in the present.  It is also assuming that they are ever caught and the NCAA has been brutally ineffective.  The most recent investigation into Miami was a huge black-eye on their ability to police these programs.  It sounds good in theory, but is not realistic and would ultimately not be effective.

Impermissible benefits are a problem that is not going away for college football or college sports in general.  There is too much money involved in it for agents, too much prestige involved with it for boosters and colleges, and young kids who are going to do what anyone would in their situation; take it.  The answer is not just paying the players a stipend.  Giving college kids some money is not going to satiate their appetite for cash.  They are still going to take more if they can get it, because it is human nature.   When it comes to the NFL Draft, it really does depend on the type of benefit a player is taking that will impact their draft stock, if they are caught.  Grades and schoolwork matter more than people realize while money has a much smaller impact unless the missed games really have a negative impact on their ability to show off their talent.