The NCAA recently decided to shorten the NBA draft early-entry deadline by more than a month, resulting in a slew of negative backlash from national sportswriters.
Some background first: NCAA players interested in gauging their NBA chances must declare their NBA draft eligibility no less than 60 days before the draft, according to the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement. The NBA allows potential draftees to drop out up to 10 days before the draft. The draft early-entry deadline refers to the NCAA-mandated date when college underclassmen must declare whether they're staying in the draft or returning to school.
Last year, the NCAA reduced the early-entry deadline from mid-June to May 8, as college coaches were reportedly tiring of recruiting players during the spring signing period while having to wait and see which of their current players would ultimately stay in the NBA draft. Previously, NCAA players in the draft process would have roughly two months to gauge their status before making the final in-or-out decision, which allowed each player time for multiple individual team workouts. Due to the shorter deadline this year, a massive group workout occurred May 7 and 8 in front of all 30 NBA teams.
Still, the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches who proposed the original shortened deadline weren't satisfied. As ESPN's Andy Katz reports, the ACC coaches proposed legislation for the new even-shorter deadline that included this passage:
"The current legislation reduced the problem by setting the withdrawal deadline May 8, which is 40 days earlier than the previous withdrawal deadline but still 22 days after the first day of the National Letter of Intent late-signing period for men's basketball in April. ... By moving the withdrawal deadline, coaches will have flexibility to address roster issues at the beginning of the spring signing period while viable prospects are still available. Evaluations by professional scouts and others during preseason practices, regular-season games, and postseason games should provide student-athletes with adequate information to credibly determine NBA draft status."
Long story short, the coaches don't want to be "held hostage" by their potential NBA players. And now, since the NCAA adopted the ACC coaches' proposal, NCAA players must withdraw or stay in the draft for good by the first day of the prep spring signing period. (This change affects solely male college basketball players, as the WNBA draft occurs only a few days after the women's basketball NCAA championship game.)
ESPN's Eamonn Brennan calls the new deadline "ridiculous," pointing out that if the new deadline were in effect this past year, college basketball players would have had eight days between the national championship game and the deadline to enter the draft. This new date effectively ends the concept of NCAA players "testing the water," Brennan says, as it "forces players with millions of dollars on the line to make life-altering decisions in the matter of a few days with minimal information on which to make them."
Brennan wasn't alone. His colleague at ESPN, Jay Bilas, wrote an article in response titled, "NCAA lacks principle on early-entry rule." Gary Parrish from CBSsports.com called the rule an "obviously crummy deal for student-athletes." He didn't stop there, saying, "the ACC coaches who proposed it should never again be allowed to say they're in this to help young people because the rule ... doesn't help young people in any way."
When the whole of the Internet adopts one side of an argument, chances are, it's probably at least on the right track. The lack of defense for the new early-entry withdrawal deadline on behalf of the NCAA is quite frankly stunning.
All that said, let's take a look at three ways this rule may have a trickle-down effect into high school basketball:
1. The one-and-done rule: If the National Basketball Players Association gets its way this summer, high school basketball players would once again be eligible to enter the NBA straight from high school.
The NBA's current collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight on July 1. Much like the NFL, the NBA is shaping up for a long and contentious battle over the new agreement.
One topic apparently in the players' sights: the NBA's one-and-done draft rule. Under the current agreement, high school players aren't allowed to jump straight from high school to the NBA; they must be 19 years old and one year removed from high school graduation before becoming eligible for the draft. (Before 2005, players such as Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James did enter the NBA straight out of high school; however, such superstars are in a very small minority.)
The NBPA's latest proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement, issued in December, includes the end of the one-and-done age restriction. NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter told ESPN writer Henry Abbott in March that the issue hadn't become huge yet, but the union was in favor of eliminating the rule. Hunter said,
"I don't know if there has been much discussion. Our position is that players should be incentivized to stay in school if that's what they want. Let's reduce the duration of the rookie scale. For every year a guy stays in school, a year comes off the rookie scale. So if a kid decides to stay for four years, he'd come in, maybe spend a year in the league, then he'd be an unrestricted free agent."
That said, Yahoo! Sports recently reported that several high-ranking NBA team executives said "they wouldn't be surprised if the age limit in the new CBA is pushed to two years in college and 20 years old by the end of that calendar year. One NBA general manager says about two-thirds of teams are in favor of that change."
2. The NBA D-League: If the players don't get their way, and the one-and-done rule remains in place, ESPN's Brennan believes the NBA D-League could be a potential middle ground for all parties.
A year after Brandon Jennings became the first prep star to bypass a year of college ball in favor of playing professionally overseas, Latavious Williams forged a new route to the NBA through the NBA Developmental League. (Williams was drafted 48th overall in the 2010 NBA draft.) Since its inception in 2001, the D-League has grown to a 16-team minor-league farm system for the NBA, dedicated to the development of NBA-level talent. That said, Williams is the only high school player who's gone the D-League route since the one-and-done rule came into effect five years ago.
Former ESPN writer Dan Shanoff believes that the D-League serves the interest of all parties—players, college basketball, and the NBA. For players, they'll receive a (small) salary and dedicate all their waking hours to the development of their basketball talent. The NBA will be "better off with a pipeline of the most talented prep players taught how to play and compete in the pro game," and college basketball will end its "unhealthy dependency on one-year wonders who don't really care about college basketball." While colleges will likely lament the loss of elite basketball talent, Shanoff believes that college basketball will remain successful, largely due to the win-or-go-home format of the NCAA tournament.
So, if the one-and-done rule remains in the NBA's next bargaining agreement, it's worth keeping an eye on the D-League as a viable alternative to college basketball for future prep stars.
3. Competitiveness in high school basketball: If the NBA players do manage to abolish the one-and-done rule, high school basketball may become even more of a breeding ground for agents.
Think about it: If a high school player were to make the prep-to-pro jump, he would need an agent to represent him during contract negotiations, no? What are the odds that agents (or representatives of agents) won't be contacting the top high school players during the season, especially if those players have given hints that they'll head straight to the NBA after high school (especially given the multimillion-dollar contracts that the top draft picks automatically receive)?
Granted, only the cream of the high school crop will even consider the prep-to-pro leap, so it's not like agents will be texting and calling every Joe Basketball Player in the country. Still, the presence of agents in the prep game is already a problem that most coaches and athletic officials would like to see disappear. Giving high school players the ability to go straight to the pros will likely only lead to more agents working their connections during the prep years.
Photo: Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) drives past Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo during the second half of Game 1 of a second-round NBA playoff basketball series on May 1 in Miami.
Jeffrey M. Boa/AP