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Threat of NFL lockout doesn't deter top college football underclassmen from declaring for draft

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 11:59 PM

Friends speculated that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck would be leaving $60 million on the table if he remained in school - as he announced he would last Thursday - rather than declaring himself eligible for this April's NFL draft.

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Luck's father Oliver, a former NFL quarterback, believed such estimates to be inflated nonsense. After studying the NFL's current labor situation, Oliver Luck concluded that no draft pick this year would get rich quickly, while those who left school early risked walking into a potential lockout - with missed training camp time, games, and paychecks.

"I was prepared to share this [cautionary information] with Andrew," said Oliver Luck, currently the athletic director at West Virginia University. "But the bottom line is, it didn't matter to him."

But despite the labor unrest and the possibility of an NFL work stoppage in 2011, undergraduates have been declaring for the draft in droves in recent days. Many seem uninterested in, or not fully aware of, the implications of a lockout, while others seem to harbor the misconception that they are likely to make out better financially by leaving school now.

Nearly 40 underclassmen already have announced publicly that they will take part in the NFL draft. That appears to be about equal to the number who had declared last year at this time, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. The deadline to declare is Saturday.

Athletes who do express concerns about a work stoppage are receiving assurances from some agents that they will provide full-fledged training opportunities for rookie clients if NFL teams bolt their doors and block player access to coaches, trainers and facilities in the spring, summer or even beyond.

"Having taken the temperature of my colleagues and various other contacts from around the league, I don't see that the [labor situation] is having much impact," said Ken Landphere, co-managing director at Octagon Football, a San Francisco-based agency that represents some 60 NFL players. "The number [of players who have announced for the draft] is very large."

The list of undergrads who intend to turn pro includes Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and many others. Virginia defensive end Zane Parr, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith and Virginia Tech running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans also have said they will enter the draft.

Players preparing to leave school early seem guided by the typical rationales: the hope of realizing a lifelong dream while their draft stock is high; fear of suffering an injury should they return for another year of school; and the need for cash. But some players also appear to believe they can make more money if they enter this year's draft rather than waiting, which experts say may be an agent-generated misconception.

Aiello said this year's draft will occur under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires March 4, but the drafted players will be subject to the terms of the next agreement.

It is widely believed the next agreement will include some sort of rookie wage scale. That means no one in this year's draft class is likely to receive anything close to the record $50 million guaranteed that Sam Bradford, last year's first overall pick, received from the St. Louis Rams.

"I don't have a crystal ball, nor does anyone else," Landphere said, "but it's very disingenuous and unfortunate that people in our business would . . . strongly state that if you come out now that you have a chance of getting a contract that's consistent with rookie contracts from year's past."

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