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NFL to allow college all-star game participation for draft-eligible underclassmen

The NFL has informed all 32 clubs that draft-eligible underclassmen will now be allowed to participate in college all-star games, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported on Wednesday, citing sources.

Any underclassman granted eligibility for the 2024 NFL Draft can be invited to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, HBCU Legacy Bowl and Senior Bowl. No other all-star game is allowed by the league to invite underclassmen. 

This is a significant change to the pre-draft process that should help provide a platform for prospects who often don't declare until late in the process and have a smaller window to expose their skills to NFL scouts. In the past, underclassmen not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine relied on pro days and private workouts in the run-up to the draft when seeking an audience of scouts.

The past few years also have seen a downturn in the number of underclassmen granted special eligibility. It hit a high-water mark in 2018, when 106 underclassmen were approved, but that number has fallen since – from 99 in 2021 to 73 in 2022 and 69 in 2023.

There have been sweeping changes in college athletics over that span, with the proliferation of NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) deals and the transfer portal opening up more opportunities for college athletes.

Although events such as the Senior Bowl have admitted fourth-year juniors who have completed their degrees in past years, the vast majority of underclassmen were previously ineligible to play in all-star events.

The deadline for underclassmen to apply for special eligibility for the 2024 NFL Draft is Jan. 15.

The East-West Shrine Bowl is scheduled to be played on Thursday, Feb. 1 and the Senior Bowl is to be held on Saturday, Feb. 3. The HBCU Legacy Bowl is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 24. All three games will be broadcast on NFL Network.

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