Mac Engel

Big Mac Bites: Could XFL take players straight from high school? Is Dirk really done?

XFL Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck welcomes new Dallas XFL head coach and general manager Bob Stoops to the stage at Globe Live Park in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Feb. 07, 2019. The seven other cities to host teams will be Houston, New York, L. A. Washington, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. (Star-Telegram Bob Booth)
XFL Commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck welcomes new Dallas XFL head coach and general manager Bob Stoops to the stage at Globe Live Park in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Feb. 07, 2019. The seven other cities to host teams will be Houston, New York, L. A. Washington, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. (Star-Telegram Bob Booth) Bob Booth

Teenagers who want to go directly to the NBA will soon again have that chance, and the commissioner of the XFL has a similar vision for his new league.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram, XFL commissioner and CEO Oliver Luck said the league, in select cases, will sign players who are recently out of high school.

Every other sport but football has allowed high schoolers to turn pro on some level; the NFL’s rule is a player must be three years removed from high school before he is eligible for the league.

“There is clearly potential to be a disruptor and it’s analogous to what the NCAA is going through with basketball,” Luck said.

Luck said nothing is stopping the XFL from allowing a high school graduate who has not played college ball to play in the league that will begin in the spring of 2020, and feature a team in Arlington.

“The three year eligibility rule is agreed to by the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association. We are not a signatory to that collective bargaining agreement,” Luck said. “The question is what policy would we have? I want to get all of my coaches together and get them in a room and hash through this issue. All of these guys, some more than others, have experience with college football. I want their thoughts on this.

“My thought on this is we will sign some players who are not quite eligible for the NFL. I am sure we will. How many? I can’t tell you. It won’t be 50 percent of our rosters. It won’t be 20 percent. There will be select cases.

“The standard I want to set out with my coaches is if we believe, collectively, that a kid is mentally, physically and mature enough to play against grown men, 25 or 27, then yes. If we don’t think that young man is ready for that, I would say let’s not do that. We would damage that kid’s career.”

With the XFL being a spring league, this would mean the recent high school graduate would not play a fall schedule. He could potentially play two full XFL seasons as essentially his “college career,” that serves as audition for the NFL.

The more likely scenario is the college freshman or sophomore who decides he doesn’t like it, or flunks out, and drops out in favor of the XFL.

“We might find the guy who is in his third year of college, and he plays but he gets hurt in Week 2,” Luck said. “He doesn’t think he has enough film on him, so he could play with us. He drops out of school in the spring, which all of these guys do anyway to get ready for the draft, and he could play 10 games and he has his film.”

The new current spring league, the American Alliance of Football, uses the same eligibility rules as the NFL.

The last person to challenge the NFL on this issue was former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett in 2004. After two seasons at Ohio State, he took his case to the Supreme Court, and ultimately lost.

The NFL’s “concern” is putting an 18-year-old against 28-year-old men in a sport where size and strength are paramount to success.

“The supposition is that the kid coming out of high school is not ready unless he is an Adrian Peterson, Leonard Fournette or Herschel Walker; those guys jump out at you,” Luck said. “Now, you get a kid who plays freshman football and let’s say he flunks out; it happens. We probably would be more flexible with that kid because he has nowhere to go.”

In 1984, when the spring USFL was in its second season, a punter from the University of Arizona sued that league over its eligibility rules, which were essentially the same as the NFL.

Fearing this type of lawsuit, the USFL had agreed to grant an exception or two to players who wanted to leave college early, most notably for Hershel Walker.

A Los Angeles court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and it could have changed eligibility rules in the ‘80s. Because the league lasted only one more year before it folded, altering this long standing standard never happened.

“I am a big believer in college sports and the power of college sports,” Luck said. “I think it’s one of the great institutions in America. I am a believer in the paradigm. My standard response to this is that out of 500,000 student athletes every year, you’re going to have a not insignificant number that don’t feel like they are properly treated. It’s inevitable. It’s like the Army; there are guys who feel like they got the short end. But I do think this is viable.”

This week, Duke forward Zion Williamson sustained a mild knee sprain in a game against North Carolina when his shoe ripped. The immediate howl was that the “1-and-done” rule, which says a player must be one year removed from high school before he can join the NBA, hurts guys like Zion and others who would have made money had they been allowed to go straight to the NBA.

The day after Zion’s Nike went RIP on ESPN, the NBA proposed to the NBA Player’s Association to essentially allow high schoolers to go straight to the pros.

The XFL, in select cases, will soon be such an option for football players.

DON’T ASSUME ON DIRK

Although the commissioner of the NBA all but said Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki is retiring, the head coach of the team said it’s wrong to assume that Der Mann is Der Done.

“You’d be wrong to assume this is his last season, for sure,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told a few of us on Wednesday. “He’s been consistent to always leave it open.”

Sounds great. He’s done.

OSCAR TIME

The safest bet in picking Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which is tonight, is to go with the most self-important, and depressing, ode to sadness among the nominees. A film that makes you want to be addicted to opioids.

“Roma” is your winner. It features black-and-white film, subtitles, and full-frontal male nudity. You can’t beat that trio.

TAKE IT TO THE BANK

Duke will not win the NCAA basketball title. Zion will return, and this lotto team will be the favorite. Go with the team that has a junior or senior or two, and does not rely on the freshmen who can’t wait to leave.

KYLER ANSWERS A FAN’S QUESTION

I doubt Kyler Murray will send me a Christmas card, but on Monday at the Davey O’Brien Award ceremonyxz the Oklahoma centerfielder was kind enough to answer a question from my a reader, Mr. Jeffrey Murray in Weatherford.

Jeff wanted me to ask Kyler, “Ask him if it’s true that the Aggie baseball team packed his gear and stacked it outside of the locker room.”

“I am sure they probably did,” Kyler said.

You are forgiven if you forgot that Kyler began his athletic career at Texas A&M before transferring to OU.

ASK A QUESTION

If you have made it this far, God bless you. If you want to ask a member of the Texas Rangers anything, email me at tengel@star-telegram. The question picked will be rewarded with a check for $345,000. *

(* checks will not be honored)

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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