Deion Sanders is dead wrong about NFL Draft and HBCUs – and he’s proving it at Colorado
OPINION: Scholarships are the golden ticket for the vast majority of college players, not being drafted or being signed.
I’ve been a Deion Sanders fan for a long time, well before we sat together in first class in 1997. He had played football that day – against the Pittsburgh Steelers – and was flying to play baseball the next day – for the Cincinnati Reds. I was tagging along as a national baseball writer.
Later, our paths crossed multiple times when I became a syndicated sports columnist in his hometown, Fort Myers, Florida. Having spent nearly a decade there, I developed a good sense of the community that produced “Neon Deion” and “Prime Time.” They’re my peeps, too, just like Sanders; warts and all, they’re family.
Whether you consider him a shameless self-promoter or a fearless truth-teller, we can agree on one thing: He’s a master at commanding attention and polarizing the viewers. He started as a blinged-out Atlanta Falcons rookie from Florida State and hasn’t slowed down as head coach at University of Colorado Boulder.
Now, Sanders is making waves with an unprecedented approach to modern college football, where players essentially can pick a new school at will. Fifty-two Colorado players have entered the transfer portal, most involuntarily, since he arrived from Jackson State. Other Power Five programs have half as many players set to exit. Forty-three Buffaloes entered the portal after Colorado’s spring game on April 22.
“You all know that we’re gonna move on from some of the team members, and we’re gonna reload and get some kids that we really identify with,” Sanders said after the spring game. He has followed through on introductory remarks to the team in December: “I’m bringing my own luggage with me, and it’s Louis,” as in Vuitton.
The Buffaloes were knockoffs last season (1-11) and the season before (4-8). That left plenty of room for improvement, starting with the roster. Colorado had 83 scholarship players at the start of last season. Approximately 20 remain. Departing players are being replaced with better players, primarily at Sanders’ behest.
He’s making the cold, heartless calculations that are standard in the NFL but less blatant in college. He’s treating the Buffaloes like a pro team, strictly business, dousing the fading embers of fake amateurism that kept players from moving and getting paid.
Interestingly, Sanders’ strategy at Colorado proves that he’s dead wrong about HBCU players and the NFL Draft.
Isaiah Bolden, who played for Sanders at Jackson State last season, was the only HBCU player selected in this year’s draft. Sanders tweeted congrats and a scolding: “I’m ashamed of the 31 other NFL teams that couldn’t find draft value in ALL of the talented HBCU players and we had 3 more draft worthy players at JSU.”
There’s no shortage of good reasons to bash the NFL, and I’m here for all of them.
But Sanders’ suggestion doesn’t make sense or pass the sniff test.
Why would the NFL overlook and undervalue HBCU players who pretty much look like non-HBCU players? Why would it discriminate against the athletes at Black schools, while treating similar athletes fairly at primarily white schools? Why would a school’s origin story from 100 years ago make a difference in player evaluations now?
Here’s the thing about HBCUs in this sport: The top level, first and foremost, plays in the Football Championship Series. That makes it a side dish for the NFL Draft and not just the HBCUs.
Bolden was one of only 10 – TEN! – FCS players selected this year. Out of nearly 1,200 selections in the last four drafts, only 41 were FCS players. Simply put, the NFL doesn’t fish for many draftees at those schools.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, two HBCU leagues, are among the 14 FCS conferences. Five didn’t have a single player drafted.
It helps to do the math. The highest-rated college prospects routinely land in the Football Bowl Series, especially the Power Five conferences. NFL teams typically reserve their draft picks for those five- and four-star athletes and try to sign lower-rated players afterward. As per usual, a flock of HBCU and other FCS players are among the undrafted free agents who joined NFL teams as soon as the selection process ended.
Drafted or not, at HBCUs or not, it really doesn’t matter; less than 2 percent of college players have a realistic shot at reaching the NFL. Jackson State might’ve attracted more top recruits and produced more draftees if Sanders stayed, but that’s beside the point.
HBCUs intuitively understand that producing draft prospects isn’t part of the mission. The thousands of young men who fill football rosters at PWIs should recognize the same, including those Colorado players who Sanders essentially cut.
Yes, he exiled dozens of young men who’ll no longer suit up for the Buffaloes. But they can keep their free ride and remain at school. NCAA rules require schools to honor those players’ scholarships if they chose to stay without playing for a first-year coach.
Scholarships are the golden ticket for the vast majority of college players, not being drafted or being signed. Sanders knows those odds as well as anyone. For the most part, the select few who are good enough eventually reach the NFL.
Players from Colorado’s 1-11 team should keep the main thing in mind as they’re kicked to the curb. HBCU players and non-HBCU players should do likewise when the NFL doesn’t come knocking.
Sanders and the league are two of a kind. Each is trying to acquire the best talent possible, no matter where they find it. Nothing personal. And nothing against Sanders, who’s still my guy.
That’s all there is to see here, folks. Move along.
Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.
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