Since the NFL’s inception, one of its most well-known rules has been the “three-year rule.” A rule that states that college players must be enrolled as a college athlete for three years before they are eligible to declare for the draft. This rule was mutually developed by the NFL and NCAA so that college programs were able to bring highly talented players onto their programs for three years, and the NFL was practically given a free developmental league for their future prospects. This rule has turned out to be incredibly beneficial to both the NFL and the NCAA, but one group has been left shortchanged— the players.
While college programs have profited off of high-level talent and NFL teams have benefited from their own personal developmental league, players have been forced for years to put their bodies and their careers at risk all for the sake of “eligibility.” Many players in their freshman and sophomore year are already being studied by NFL scouts and given draft grades that determine where they could potentially be selected. However, even with this information student-athletes are still forced to stay for three years, putting themselves at an immense risk for injury and potentially ruining their careers as NFL players.
There are countless stories of past student athletes who have been guaranteed first round spots in the NFL draft in their sophomore year only to have injury hit in their junior year, costing them millions of dollars and in some cases their NFL careers. One former student-athlete who is the most notable and heartbreaking example of this is Marcus Lattimore, a running back who played for the University of South Carolina from 2010-2012.
After Lattimore’s sophomore year of college, he had already been selected to be on the First and Second All-SEC teams and the Second All-American team, along with being projected by multiple NFL scouts and analysts to be a sure first round selection when he was declared eligible. Towards the end of Lattimore’s junior season with the Gamecocks, he dislocated and tore every ligament in his knee resulting in the end of his career at South Carolina, his first round hopes and as he would discover years later, an end to his NFL career. Lattimore still declared for the draft for fear of injuring his knee again at South Carolina, only to be selected four rounds later, where he would earn $20 million dollars less than he would have if he had been selected in the first round.
To the NFL, there was no cost for this. To the NCAA and the University of South Carolina, there was no cost for this. However, to Marcus Lattimore this injury cost him $20 million and his entire career in the NFL. Because of the three-year rule, many players like Marcus Lattimore are put at risk every single year when their NFL careers should already be set in stone. These student athletes should never be forced to follow a rule that brings monumental risks and zero reward.