There is big news from the NFL around the eligibility for underclassmen and their availability for College Football All-Star games.

News came on Wednesday Nov. 8 that there was to be a shake up of the existing eligibility rules that until this moment only allowed seniors or players who have graduated to compete in these games.

As interest in the NFL Draft increases as we inch further into the NFL season, attention is turning to who teams could potentially draft and intrigue in All-Star events is heating up, with invites already being sent out to the 2024 Senior Bowl.

Who Can Play in All-Star Games?

As reported by NFL Network’s NFL Insider Tom Pelissero, underclassmen are now eligible to compete in College Football All-Star games.

The news was communicated to NFL teams and the changes will take place with immediate effect. The dramatic development means that underclassmen who will declare early for the 2024 NFL Draft, are eligible to join the All-Star circuit. It means that the top prospects available, like Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, could possibly be involved on the All-Star circuit. This might be unlikely. But, officially, they are now eligible to compete in these events.

The rule however, only applies to three All-Star games. They are the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Bowl and the HBCU Legacy Bowl. The dates for these games are:

1st Feb – Shrine Bowl
3rd Feb – Senior Bowl
24th Feb – HBCU Legacy Bowl

This ruling is a significant change to the pre-draft process. With the All-Star games being a big milestone in the lead up to the NFL Draft. Before this rule change underclassmen had to wait until either the NFL Combine or their Pro-Days to get in front of NFL Team.

What Does the Rule Mean for Underclassmen?

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The impact on players is two-fold. The impact to Seniors and the impact to underclassmen.

For underclassmen, they would traditionally only enter the draft if they were seen as one of the top prospects in the draft. And seen as a shoe-in to be taken in the first two days of the NFL Draft. That usually coincides with a good grade provided by the Draft Assessment Committee. If you are declaring early for the NFL Draft then you are usually pretty good and the chances of you needing to go to an All-Star event to boost your draft stock is pretty low. Plus, underclassmen have to be given special dispensation to declare early for the NFL Draft. The deadline to apply early for the 2024 NFL Draft is January 15. 2024.

In 2023, 69 underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft. That number was 73 in 2022 and was 99 in 2021. The decrease in the number of underclassmen declaring early for the NFL Draft also correlates with the increase in NIL and usage of the Transfer Portal in College Football.

These All-Star games will have to be careful that underclassmen don’t take advantage of the opportunity to go to the event. They could talk to teams but don’t participate in the games or practice sessions. One of the big pulling points for these games is that players get the opportunity to get in front of NFL teams and interview during the week. How the All-Star games could prevent this is up for debate, but it is something that they will want to be considering. For every player that goes the an All-Star event and does not participate is an opportunity for someone else.

What Is The Impact On Seniors?

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For Seniors, this rule change has the potential to be a lot more significant. Unfortunately, the change has the potential to take opportunities away from prospects who find themselves on the periphery of the NFL Draft and could impact smaller school prospects even more. 

Every year we see ‘lesser known’ prospects go to Mobile for the Senior Bowl and elevate their draft stock. Boosting where they get drafted and earning themselves more money in the process. It is important that the All-Star circuit doesn’t lose the essence of what makes them so valuable. Be assured that the All-Star Bowl games mean a lot to the staff and the communities where they take place, and they will be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

There is no doubt though, that there will be guys who would usually go to the Senior Bowl or the Shrine Bowl who will now will miss out. That is the nature of competition. Even if 20 of the 69 underclassmen from last year went to an All-Star event, that is 20 less opportunities for lower down prospects to showcase their abilities. The All-Star circuit is huge for these players and does a lot for them. As mentioned, sometimes boosting their stock up multiple rounds. Whereas if that place goes to a junior, well it is unlikely to impact their stock in such dramatic fashion.

How Are All-Star game rosters built?

It is important at this point to remember how the rosters for All-Star events work. The rosters are built by a team of scouts. But, they also take feedback from NFL teams on prospects they would like to see at these events. They are in constant communication with contacts in the league on players they would like to see step up into these games. That could be for a variety of reasons. It could be that they want to see how these prospects perform against a higher level of competition. Or it could be that they want to get up close and examine certain skills and leadership qualities that are on show during practice sessions. That goes in the favor of senior players. While there will be underclassmen involved, we will wait to see how many.

What About Other All-Star Games?

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This new rule only applies to the three All-Star Games mentioned. So there is potential here for a trickle down effect. For instance, as the premier All-Star game, if the Senior Bowl isn’t taking the same amount of seniors, those seniors could well end up at the Shrine Bowl. Who are trying their hardest to rival the Senior Bowl and take prospects away from them. 

Then those players who would have gone to the Shrine Bowl, may now go to the Hula Bowl. The Hula Bowl is not eligible for this rule change, but is seen as the next best All-Star game available. It will allow them to gather up prospects that they haven’t been able to previously. Leading to better rosters throughout every game on the All-Star Circuit.

For those Bowl games that are eligible, we know that they have been preparing for this moment. The Senior Bowl Director, Jim Nagy, posted that they had been building their 2024 board in the expectation that this ruling would take effect.

For these games, the rule change increases the talent pool available to them. That in turn creates more intrigue in these events from fans, from players, from teams and for the commercial opportunities for these games. In the way of sponsorship and TV deals. If a specific All-Star game is able to secure a place for one of the top prospects in the entire draft on to their roster, then the attention that game will get will only be heightened.

It is going to be incredible to watch, but there are good and bad sides to this overhaul of the All-Star Game eligibility.