Good news, friends! Iowa's streak of having a first-round draft pick (three years and counting entering 2013) isn't over after all! You know, so long as you count being a first-round draft pick in the Canadian Football League Draft as the same thing as being a first-round draft pick in the National Football League, which... okay, it's not really the same thing at all. But Nolan MacMillan was still drafted in the first round of the 2013 CFL Draft. In fact, not only was he taken in the first round (#9 overall), but he became the first-ever pick of the league's new Ottawa franchise, which will surely become the answer to a fascinating question in Canadian Trivial Pursuit in a few years. (Hey, I don't judge how you spend your game nights.)
The franchise is so new they don't even have a nickname yet, although Wiki says they're choosing between the RedBlacks, the Nationals, the Raftsmen, the Voyageurs, or the Rush. Of course a Canadian team would consider "Rush" an appropriate nickname. Whatever they end up going with, they're always going to be The Fightin' Tom Sawyers to me. But I digress.
So yeah: Nolan MacMillan was drafted by a CFL team. How did that happen? What does that mean? Let's answer these questions in good ol' Q&A format. Special shout-out to Andrew Bucholtz, the chief writer for 55-Yard Line and on Twitter at @AndrewBucholtz, the CFL blog for Yahoo! Sports Canada, who graciously answered many of my questions about the CFL Draft.
So, wait, how did Nolan MacMillan get drafted? He didn't even declare for the CFL Draft.
That's true, but it also doesn't matter. While underclassmen have to formally declare for the NFL Draft, the CFL Draft operates a little bit differently. There's no formal declaration process -- players are just automatically eligible four years after starting college. MacMillan will be a redshirt senior in 2013-14, his fifth year at Iowa.
Ah, okay. But there's gotta be a catch to this process, right?
There is, yeah -- the CFL Draft is only for players who grew up in Canada* or Canadian-born players attending U.S. colleges. MacMillan obviously fits in under that second provision.
* Basically. There's a more complicated explanation, but it involves imports and non-imports, the price of maple syrup futures in Newfoundland, and moose arithmetic.
A-ha! So that's why James Vandenberg wasn't selected in the CFL Draft?
No. The Ursine Preservation League has barred the Mandenberg from even setting foot in Canada.
So what does this mean for MacMillan's eligibility at Iowa? Can he still play for Iowa this fall?
Yes. Getting drafted by a CFL team has no impact on a player's NCAA eligibility.
OK, but MacMillan is an Iowa offensive lineman, right?
And we all know the NFL loves offensive linemen from Iowa, right?
What if he's finally healthy and has a really strong season at Iowa and an NFL team wants to draft him in next April's NFL Draft? Could they do that?
Yep. The unnamed new Ottawa franchise now owns MacMillan's CFL playing rights -- but that has no impact on MacMillan's NFL rights. If an NFL team likes the cut of his jib next year, they will be free to draft him. And if MacMillan can make their roster, he'll almost certainly opt for the NFL team over the Unnamed Ottawa Team in the CFL, because NFL monies are waaaaaaaaaaay better than CFL monies.
So how long does the Ottawa franchise own MacMillan's CFL playing rights?
Isn't it kind of weird that MacMillan would get drafted -- he hasn't really played all that much at Iowa, right?
It's very true that MacMillan has had a rocky career at Iowa. He redshirted in 2009 as a true freshman. 2010 got off to an inauspicious start when he missed most of spring practice with an injury, but he still found himself atop the depth chart that fall and started the first six games of the 2010 season. Unfortunately, the injury bug reared its ugly head again and he missed the remainder of the 2010 season. He also missed the entire 2011 season due to injuries. Injuries forced him to miss time during the spring and fall practices leading up to the 2012 season, but he did play some last year. Per the Hawkeye Sports participation chart, he started one game (at Indiana) and appeared in seven other games. I... don't remember any of that, but to be fair, I've really tried to block out a lot of things about the 2012 season.
So, no, MacMillan hasn't played a lot at Iowa (mostly due to injuries) and it's not even clear how much he would play this fall when/if he's healthy. But he has been good when healthy (he earned freshman All-American recognition by Phil Steele and CollegeFootballNews.com after the 2010 season) and it's certainly possible that he could slide back into the Iowa line-up this fall if he's finally healthy and able to regain his 2010 form. He's a gamble for the Ottawa franchise (given his injury history and the fact that he might be able to parlay his Iowa pedigree into some NFL opportunities), but he's one worth taking for them due to the fact that he's Canadian prospect with a lot of talent. (Our esteemed CFL expert also notes that they had limited options with this pick because they aren't beginning play until 2014 and were actually required to draft NCAA players rather than players at Canadian universities.)
For my part, I just hope that MacMillan is able to have one healthy season at Iowa. He's had one of the most snake-bitten and injury-riddled careers at Iowa in recent memory, which has been a damn shame. He flashed some impressive promise as a redshirt freshman and it would be wonderful to see him get another opportunity to really show what he can do.