Smith sees potential in inaugural NFLPA Bowl

DeMaurice Smith

Backing of players' association, presence of underclassmen could allow NFLPA Bowl to build into top pre-draft game, but executive director DeMaurice Smith maintains his focus.

CARSON, Calif. – There is an 80 percent chance of rain Saturday.

If that ends up being the biggest problem the inaugural AstroTurf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl has to overcome, its future looks to be quite bright. But NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith isn't looking that far ahead.

His focus is on this week, giving 98 players a chance to show their skills while being coached by two dozen coaches and NFL veterans.

"The real goal was making sure that we got this off for players that we consider to be our future members," Smith said Thursday.

"As far as how we move forward, the goal is to continue to provide that service going forward."

The game represents a number of first – the first all-star game directly under the auspices of the players' association, first all-star game to allow underclassmen to participate, and first game with NFL ties played in greater Los Angeles since the departure of the Raiders and Rams in 1994.

Those first two put the game in opposition with the NFL, which barred executives and scouts from attending practices because of the presence of Miami offensive lineman Brandon Washington and Boston College defensive end Max Holloway, the only underclassmen to participate.

Smith said the directive would be challenged at a later date, noting the NCAA "didn't have a problem with it.

"But if the choice was to punish the juniors in order to have the league consent to the presence of their scouts, if that was the choice, that choice is going to be no," he said.

"One thing became abundantly clear during the lockout is we're never going to be in a position where I believe we have to beg the league for anything. These are our future members."

With a record 65 underclassmen set to enter the 2012 draft and the NFLPA's backing, the logical growth of the game would seemingly put it in position to challenge or perhaps pass the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game as the premiere pre-draft contest. For his part, Smith expressed no such ambitions.

"Look, these are great kids," he said. "They have a great opportunity to come out here and learn from guys like Isaac Bruce, Tony Richardson, Tom Flores and Dick Vermeil. The next step is making sure the game comes off in a good way and from there we build."

The game lacks marquee draft prospects, instead featuring players likely to be selected in the final few rounds or signed as undrafted free agents.

The roster has a large Pac-12 contingent, with six players from nearby USC and UCLA, a nod to its location.

The game will stay in Los Angeles, Smith said, as the value of "having a West Coast presence is important to us a union."

And while the NFLPA is in favor of having a team return to the nation's second-largest media market, playing this game at the Home Depot Center, owned and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group, does not represent any endorsement of potential stadium plans, Smith said with a laugh.

AEG wants to build a 68,000-seat stadium downtown next to its L.A. Live complex and Staples Center, while Majestic Realty is pushing a proposal in the City of Industry.

"Our position is you should never use a city as a stalking horse if it makes good sense for a team to be present," Smith said. "If it makes good business decision for our players and teams, that's what should happen."

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