Safety Net Provides a Win-Win: Why the NCAA’s Proposal to Change the NBA Draft Rules is an Overdue Improvement

NICOLE COMPARATO—As college basketball season returns and fans’ favorite teams take the hardwood, there will undoubtedly be murmurs about the players who entered the NBA Draft foregoing their remaining years of eligibility.

Fans will especially lament those players who went undrafted or remain unsigned by NBA teams when they could have been continuing their college careers. But—after all—NCAA rules are the rules, and once you enter the draft, there’s no going back.

However, as soon as January 2016, a NCAA Division I Council legislation proposal may render that idea moot, and it is about time.

In June 2015, the Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee recommended a proposal for the 2015–2016 legislative process that would drastically alter the state of the NBA Draft, allowing a player up to 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine to remove his name from the Draft List. Even better, the NBA would provide specific feedback after the Combine to the finite number of draft-eligible players invited. The proposal would also permit student-athletes to participate in one tryout per NBA team per year and allow student-athletes to enter the NBA Draft multiple times throughout their college careers without jeopardizing their eligibility.

Recently, in October 2015, the Division I Council accepted an amendment to the proposal that would additionally allow college coaches 20 hours a week to work out their players. According to the NCAA, “[t]he committee felt that allowing a coach additional access for the workouts would support the player’s decision-making on whether to declare for the NBA [D]raft,” stating that “[b]y working out on campus, the coach would be able to provide firsthand advice and the student-athlete can remain enrolled in classes should he decide to continue his collegiate career.”

As the rule stands now, NCAA bylaw states that a current-student athlete loses amateur status in the sport by asking to be placed on the draft list unless he removes his name under bylaw (the men’s basketball exception) by a specified date. In 2015, for example, the NBA’s deadline for players to enter the Draft was April 26, yet student-athletes could only retain college eligibility if they withdrew from the draft by the NCAA’s April 14 deadline. This meant that the players had to declare for the Draft, evaluate their potential, and withdraw with a full 12 days left before the NBA’s deadline even came around in order to retain their amateur status. On top of this, the NBA Draft Combine did not take place until May 12–17, leaving no option to participate before deciding whether or not to enter the Draft.

Considering the current rules, it is no wonder the new proposal has been received well by most coaches. Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said in June that he helped develop the proposal in conjunction with the NBA and NCAA. He said, “we have to let the kids come back to school if they’re not invited to the combine, or [if] they go to the combine and know they need to come back to school . . . I think we’re finally moving in a direction where it favors the kids and that’s what we should be doing.”

The NCAA Division I Council has sponsored the proposal, and while that is not a full indication of support, it does push it to the top of the proposal pile. A new process allows Council-sponsored proposals that are time-sensitive and impact student-athletes to move faster in the cycle, which will put the proposal up to a vote as soon as January, despite the usual voting that occurs in April.

However, while many coaches publicly support this proposal, some remain skeptical of its implications.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported that in response to the proposal, one ACC Coach who wished to remain anonymous said, “[w]hy is it that the school’s got to be held hostage while the NBA is parading (players) all over the country trying to figure out whether they can play?” This presents the idea that players will merely test the waters while holding out on their schools, but it seems the NCAA has prepared for that. In light of the proposal, the Division I Conference Commissioners Association plans to examine the National Letter of Intent signing date, and could move it into the summer. That would mean that coaches could sign players later while they are waiting to hear if their players are leaving for the NBA or returning.

Overall, it is difficult to see any major drawbacks to this proposal, and in several ways it can benefit the school more than the current system. Many players who declare for the draft go undrafted and then scrounge in free agency, or they are drafted in late rounds just to be cut early after signing. These players may go overseas or to the NBA Development League, when they could simply have returned to college and continued building their draft stock if they had a better idea of where they stood. Also, the players could continue to work toward their college degrees, which is important in light of NCAA statistics that show less than 2 percent of Division I basketball players make it to the NBA.

In particular, the feedback after the NBA Combine could be invaluable. It is true that the NBA Combine may not “make or break anyone’s draft stock,” as Jonathan Wasserman writes. But, as he said, “[f]reshmen with upside, late-blooming seniors, mid-major stars and power-conference standouts are all placed on one equal playing field in front of dozens of NBA personnel.” That provides perspective, and after all of this guidance under the new proposal, a student-athlete can truly make an informed decision for his career.

While the NCAA seems to be leaning toward approving this proposal, coaches and student-athletes should continue to advocate for its approval in the coming months. If voting occurs in January, this legislation may be enacted in time to apply to the upcoming Draft. An NCAA withdrawal deadline in mid-April might be no more, and instead invited players could look forward to participating in the May 11–15, 2016 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago without being forced to kiss college play goodbye.

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