NCAA rule may deter NBA leaps

Last season 21 college players declared for the NBA draft and then returned to college. The NCAA is currently considering legislation that would eliminated a player's ability to test his options, giving coaches more certainty as they recruit and consider scholarships and recruits for the following season.

With pending legislation, the NCAA is trying to slow the flow of college basketball players leaving early for the NBA.

College athletics’ governing body has proposed an amendment that would stop players from entering the NBA draft and then returning to college without losing their eligibility. Currently, basketball players are allowed to test the draft to get a feeling for their NBA earning potential and withdraw prior to the selection date if they do not sign with agents.

The proposal will be discussed and decided at the NCAA meetings in April and would go into effect immediately. The Big Ten conference first proposed the change with hope that the majority of players would err on the side of caution and fewer would leave college early. Last year, 21 players declared for the draft and withdrew before draft day and 13 players were selected into the league.

Paul Haagen, a law school professor who has helped Duke basketball players connect with agents and transition to the league, said the amendment would not have a strong effect on Blue Devils who leave early. Duke players who depart before their eligibility has run out are generally first-round locks, and none has declared for the draft and returned for another season.

The Big Ten and the amendment’s other proponents have said it would clear up the sometimes-hazy line between players receiving information from agents and entering into contracts with them. Agent Bill Duffy of BDA Sports Management represents a number of NBA players and said the legislation will highlight the “seriousness” of the decision to enter the draft. Duffy, whose company represents former Duke guards Chris Duhon and Jay Williams, said that he does not think the NCAA should interfere with players’ decisions.

“The rules of the NCAA in many cases are archaic,” Duffy said. “I don’t think it is their place to mandate the goals and pursuits of athletes.”

The proposal has also received opposition from several NCAA committees, including the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee. The Men’s Basketball Issues Committee also declined to support the proposal, stating it contradicts concurrent movements to strengthen the coach-player relationship.

Understanding the NCAA legislation may be too severe, the National Association of Basketball Coaches has suggested pushing up the draft-withdrawal date without taking away a player’s chance to test his potential.

“We talked to the NBA about moving up the date for players taking their names out of the draft,” NABC chair Jim Haney said. “A coach would rather know so that he has a chance to recruit someone else or make appropriate plans. As it is now, the coach doesn’t know whether or not the player will return, so he does not know if he has that scholarship to use.”

Players can also be negatively affected by the draft-testing process, though usually less directly than the coaches. Haagen said entering the draft, though it benefits the athletes, can trap players because it is a larger time commitment than most estimate.

“Because they see it as a costless, often times players enter who would be much better off finishing their finals and focusing on finishing up the school year,” Haagen said.

Players currently put their names into the draft to promote attention. The athletes then consult with agents and their college coaches to predict likely their draft positions.

Under the current rules, it is sometimes difficult for players to obtain unbiased information, including when an agent puts the prospect of a client before a player’s best interest, Haagen said. On the other hand, he added, information provided by a coach can be slanted based on his desire to keep the player.

“If you look at Jim O’Brien’s contract, for example, he has a series of incentive clauses and one of those is graduation rate,” Haagen said of the former Ohio State basketball head coach. “So there’s simply a conflict of interests there.”

Coaches and agents alike say communication between coaches and players during the process must improve regardless of the whether the legislation is adopted.

“I think in the ideal world the coach has the best interests of the student athlete in mind and has a good feel for whether the player is ready for the next level, and the athlete can approach him and involve the coach in the dialogue,” Haney said. “What generally happens, however, especially with freshmen, is the coach is not involved in the process, the coach is the last one to know and it is someone else providing the support.”


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