Sports Illustrated — Fifteen months into the era of name, image and likeness (NIL), Mike Leach has come to a realization like so many within the industry: College sports have been professionalized. And it is time, he says, for college athletes to become professionals. It’s time for a player draft. It’s time for salary caps, for trades and for player cuts.
Caught in a purgatory between amateurism and professionalism since NIL was legalized in July 2021, college sports should take the full leap into the latter, the Mississippi State football coach says.
“This should not be a masquerade party of professionals. Are you a professional or are you not?” says Leach during an interview in his office earlier this week. “Instead of sitting here and having 17-year-olds lecture everybody that they are professionals, well, let them be professionals. It’s one [amateur] or the other [professional]. Right now, we’ve got this whole mysterious stratosphere of people wiggling all over back and forth.”
“With professionals comes responsibility,” he says. “Yeah, you will potentially make more money. But you are drafted and can be traded. That’s what professionals do. This college football group [of administrators], they are all shocked by that. Why are you shocked by it? Name one league of professionals who don’t do it that way.”
Mike Leach has had some zany ideas before, but this one would change the very foundations of college football.
Even in the NIL era, college football has pretty much maintained its structure as it existed previously. Sure, NIL collectives have changed the landscape a bit, but kids were getting money to go to schools before and they're just getting it in the open now. I get the argument that they're professionals — and don't disagree — but they've been professionals for a long time.
Can you imagine a college football draft, though? It's certifiably insane, but it's so insane that I think I might love it. Twenty-five rounds with every FBS and FCS team in the country making five picks a day for a week. I'd be tuned in for every second. And then being able to trade players?! Just think about the outrage the first time Auburn and Alabama make a trade with each other at the deadline. People will lose their damn minds.
Yeah, fuck it, I'm all the way on board with Leach. They're already letting half the teams in the country in the College Football Playoff like he's wanted forever anyway, go ahead and implement this idea, too. This would actually bring about far more parity than putting a Group of Five team and a couple 9-3 squads in the CFP every year to get steamrolled by Alabama and Georgia.
Leach added there will still be an option and incentive for players to remain amateurs if they choose, creating teams with some amateurs and some professionals.
Under Leach’s plan, amateurs follow similar rules currently applied to college athletes. They are unpaid and they can freely transfer. However, amateurs would receive a $100,000 bonus once they graduate from the school with which they originally signed. If you transfer, Leach says, you’d give up the right to earn the bonus.
Those choosing to be professionals would be paid a salary from the school, sign a binding contract, and could be traded and cut from the team. They still must attend school. School salary pools are structured similar to the NFL, where franchises are limited in their spending.
I don't know how tenable this system is, but I'd be interested to see it implemented. Let's just give one of Crazy Mike's ideas a chance.