NFL Quietly Changes Rule That Keeps Rookies Out Of Spring Practices

This is a topic that I meant to get to last week, but during the season, it can be quite difficult to find the time to squeeze in every article that you would like to—even when you write at a level of volume as I do. Especially when it pertains to issues that don’t explicitly address the Pittsburgh Steelers, a rival, or an immediate opponent, they have to go on the back burner if there are more notable things to talk about.

But I thought that the Saturday afternoon before a Sunday evening game might be a good time to cover it. Seemingly fairly quietly, the NFL and the AFCA have collectively done away with one of the most annoying rules in football: the “May 16 Rule”.

According to the official NFL Operations website, the May 16 Rule, implemented first in 1990, “is an NFL effort to make sure that drafted rookies who have yet to graduate can finish their college educations without pressure to drop out to join their new NFL club”.

What this has ultimately done is prevented certain rookies—primarily from colleges who use the quarters system, rather than semesters—from participating in much of the early offseason activities, which just so happen to be especially helpful to them, as they have quite a bit of learning to do.

In recent years, the Steelers have had a few players who were affected by this rule, including, off the top of my head, wide receiver Markus Wheaton in 2013 and guard David DeCastro, both of whom came from schools who hold exams in June. I believe Jordan Zumwalt may also have been affected. Maybe Travis Feeney as well.

This is how the rule was originally written:

(ii)  Players who attend schools with final examinations that conclude after May 16* may not participate in any activities other than the three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp until after the player’s final day of examinations.

(iii)  Players who have withdrawn from school may not attend any club activity (other than the three-day post-Draft Rookie minicamp) or be visited at his campus or residence, or any other location, by any club personnel or club representative if final examinations have yet to conclude at the school. This includes drafted players, any undrafted players that have signed as free agents, and any undrafted players that have not signed.

According to Pro Football Talk, the modified ruling now allows for such players to participated fully in offseason activities provided that the player

(1) provides documentation that he has completed all necessary requirement for all courses in which he was enrolled; (2) is permitted to return to school for any final exams in non-online courses, if he has remained enrolled; (3) is permitted enough time to complete final exams for online courses; or (4) is no longer enrolled in school.

It may not look—or even be—particularly significant in the grand scheme of things, but it is a big change especially for late-round and undrafted players from schools who were previously affected by this rule.

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