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Monday, March 16, 2015
Testing the NBA Draft Waters in 2015

As you fill out your brackets for the 2015 NCAA March Madness tournament, it's time for my yearly rant on the preposterous rules that the NCAA imposes on men's basketball players and their ability to properly evaluate their option in leaving early for the NBA. Want to know how absurd the NCAA's rule regarding their deadline for early-entry into the NBA draft is?  It has been called "one of the silliest, most cynical and least student-athlete-friendly decisions ever." [And there is a significant amount of competition by the NCAA for this award.]

Consider the following:
  1. To set the framework, the NBA's draft eligibility rules, found in Article X, Section 1 of the CBA, require that a player be 19 years old, thus the concept of "one and done";
  2. In a rare moment of logic, the NCAA allows prospects to "test the waters" by working out with teams and getting an appraisal from the NBA's Undergraduate Advisory Committee on their draft potential. However, this value of this opportunity is greatly reduced when taking into account NBA and NCAA deadlines;
  3. The NBA has several events and deadlines regarding entry into the 2015 Draft, they are: 
    • April 8-11th: Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (seniors only)
    • April 26th: Early-entry candidate deadline to declare for the NBA draft
    • April 29th: NBA teams can conduct or attend workouts with early-entry players
    • May 12-17th: NBA draft combine
    • May 19th: NBA draft lottery
    • June 15th: Deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft
    • June 25th: 2015 NBA Draft
  4. The NCAA also has a deadline by which players must declare their intention to return to college. The kicker? The NCAA requires that college athletes announce by April 12th.  A full 65 days before the NBA requires they do so.
Thus, the obvious incongruity of these deadlines: the NCAA requires a decision before ANY of the NBA dates kick in. It is no coincidence that the NCAA deadline of April 12th is early; it's so that college coaches are able to know who is returning to their rosters before the April 17th men's basketball signing period. This imposed deadline was created with the direct purpose of assisting in recruiting; yet another example of the scales tipping in favor of coaches rather than their players.

The NCAA program which allowed prospects the ability to work out and get an unbiased and informed perspective on their pro potential is nearly moot. Why?  Because NBA teams won't work out players until their deadline (April 26th) has passed and someone has declared for the draft. And despite NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's intent on having the NBA, NBPA, and NCAA all in a room agreeing upon dates, age eligibility requirements, and other issues (as reported here at a 2014 Boston College's Chief Executives Club event) there is the legal barrier to this conversation ever taking place: collusion. The NCAA is not a legally recognized bargaining entity.

The bottom line is that in order to allow college coaches the ability to evaluate their roster needs for the fall, college students are handcuffed in their ability to get an unbiased evaluation of their NBA prospects. Yet somehow in the sports of baseball, football and hockey, league draft rules and NCAA bylaws enable players to take their time in weighing this career choice. If the mission of higher education is to educate and allow for career development, why does the NCAA choose college basketball recruiting needs over the best interests of the students?

There has been plenty written about the absurdity of these rules:
  1. In 2011 I wrote a law review article outlining the history of the NBA draft and arguing for change;
  2. This past week, noted agent Arn Tellem wrote this important article in Grantland titled "D-League Reconstruction: The Necessary Plan to Fix the NBA's Farm System." The proposals are sound, with many industry leaders applauding Tellem's vision. Among the recommendations, Tellem argues for greater investment in the D-League, changes in the draft system, and an ability for undrafted college players to return to the NCAA. All I can say is "hope springs eternal...."
  3. One wrinkle in 2015 to this debate is the role that Michele Roberts, newly appointed Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) will play. Given the strength of the union, her public positions on a variety of hot topics, and the increased engagement of NBA stars such as Chris Paul and LeBron James in the strategic direction of this organization, one can only assume greater advocacy on behalf of the players than has been seen in recent years.
  4. In recent years, several others have weighed in: Darren Heitner wrote this piece. Marc Isenberg penned this article. Andy Katz here and here, Eamonn Brennan here.
  5. There was, of course, the great and path-breaking law review article written in 2004 by our own Michael McCann titled "Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft."  McCann was the first person to show through empirical analysis of both on and off the court performance that players skipping college were the best players in the NBA and that an age restriction is irrational. McCann followed up Illegal Defense in 2005 with an empirical study on NBA players who have been arrested and their education level.
  6. The best news is that there is on-going dialogue to address the draft withdrawal date. ESPN's Andy Katz does a great job here, in outlining the parameters of these discussions which includes pushing back the NCAA's date to withdraw from the draft and an underclassman invite-only combine.
Again, very little new in this post, just a reminder of the asinine nature of the NCAA restricting college students from making an informed choice about their future careers.


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