What Is The NFL Three Year Rule?

The NFL 3 year rule states that to play in the NFL you must be at least 3 years removed from high school. This is why most football players go to college for 3 years prior to declaring for the draft.

The NFL 3 year rule is different to the NBA which states you must be at least 19 years or older to play in the NBA. 

When Was The NFL 3 Year Rule Created?

In the early 1900s when the NFL was first set up there were no restrictions relating to how old a player could be. Coaches would sign any player who was talented enough to compete. 

It was actually common for players to play a season of college then hop onto a pro team before then rejoining their old college team.

Things changed in 1925. Red Grange was one of the most famous football players in the whole country and he was still in college. Grange decided to leave college early after playing 3 seasons for the University of Illinois and signed with the Chicago Bears.

College football fans were outraged that Grange would leave college early and play for the Bears. Many thought it would ruin college football and inspire other players to skip college and head straight for the pros. So in 1995 the NFL brought in a rule that players had to be 4 years removed from high school to play in the pros.

The Red Grange Rule stayed in effect all the way up to 1990! In 1990 the NFL decided to shave one year off the Red Grange Rule. Now players only had to be 3 years removed from high school.

The rule was altered because too many talented players who were more than good enough to play pro football were stuck in college. Team owners and coaches wanted access to these skilled players before they got hurt and players wanted to finally earn some money instead of playing football for free.

Shaving a year off the eligibility rule was considered a compromise because college football programs were worried that the game would decline if the rule was completely abolished. 

Why Does the NFL 3 Year Rule Exist?

NFL teams claim the 3 year rule exists to protect player safety and to protect teams against liability if a young player is injured. However, the real reason the NFL 3 year rule exists is to protect college football.

If the NFL 3 year rule didn’t exist a lot of star college football players would only play 1 or 2 years and then hop to the NFL. The result would be college football would have less talented players and the games would feature less overall skill. This could severely hurt college football viewing figures and attendance, harming the multi billion dollar industry. 

The NFL 3 year rule is definitely controversial because why should the NFL be allowed to discriminate based on age. Why should they be able to prevent an adult from entering the league? Many college players are against the rule because it forces them to play college football where they risk damaging their bodies for zero money.

However, thanks to the passing of the NIL law which states college player’s can now make money from their likeness, college players are not as strongly against the rule. 

The Three Year Rule isn’t Going Anywhere

The NFL 3 year rule protects players’ safety and keeps college football full of talented players. Now that college football players can earn money through NIL we don’t expect the rule to change anytime soon but we think another year should be shaved off so players can enter the NFL when they are 21 years old. 


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