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Playoff players face time crunch in making NFL decision

PHOENIX (AP) — The players who earned a chance to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff had more than a month to prepare for the biggest games of their lives.

Once the national championship game was over, the elite players had a much shorter window to make the biggest decision of their lives.

Try three days.

The adrenaline of Monday night’s national title game still flowing, top players like Ohio State’s Cardale Jones have until Thursday’s deadline to gather themselves and try to make a rational decision about whether to declare for the NFL draft or stay in school.

That’s not a lot of time for what will likely be a life-altering decision — no matter how it turns out.

“To me, it could be like one of those days like signing day: you can declare by that date, but you don’t have to,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “If you just played recently, why not wait another two weeks? It’s a big decision and the kids should be able to gather as much information as possible.”

The NFL draft isn’t until April 30-May 2, but the early date for declaring was put in place to prevent agents from having more time to recruit players for the draft and so college coaches can assess their rosters before signing recruiting classes. The first day high school players can sign a national letter of intent is Feb. 4 and the extra time gives the college coaches a chance to secure replacements for the top players who leave for the NFL.

Many of the top college players have already declared for the draft, including Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson and Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong.

Mariota joined that list — and teammate Arik Armstead — when he declared for the draft on Wednesday. Jones, despite leading the Buckeyes to a national title in his third career start, said he doesn’t feel ready for the NFL, though he still has another day before the deadline to make a final decision.

Regardless of Jones’ decision, his coach believes he should have more time to make it.

“If we’re in that situation, we would like to have more space, more time,” coach Urban Meyer said before the Buckeyes beat Oregon 42-20 in the national title game. “I think now that there’s a playoff, they should readdress that and move it back a little bit.”

The NFL made several changes in the process last year, altering the evaluation system and limiting the number of players who can submit paperwork to the league’s draft advisory board.

In previous years, the committee comprised of current general managers, college scouting directors and other front office personnel would give players a grade based on which of the draft’s seven rounds they might be taken in. Now, a prospect is only told if he has a first- or second-round grade.

The NFL also has limited the number of players who can submit paperwork to five from each school, though exceptions can be made.

But the NFL’s advisory committee is far from the lone determiner in whether a player decides to stay in school or take a shot at the NFL.

A good starting point, for sure, but there’s also input from a variety of other sources, family members, coaches — college, high school and sometimes pee-wee — friends and hangers-on who may not have the player’s best interests in mind.

And the decisions don’t always work out.

A record 98 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft a year ago and that led to a record 36 underclassmen who went undrafted. The number is likely to be lower this year, but there’s still likely to be a handful of players who declared for the draft but probably should have stayed in school another year or two.

“The biggest thing I think was that last year there were so many kids that declared last year that went undrafted,” Rodriguez said. “What you hope is that they get all the right information before they make their decision and not try to make a rational decision based on information from someone who might not have your best interest. You want to get all the information you can and make an educated decision that’s best for your future.”

The small window of time after the national championship game can make that decision even tougher.

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