The most significant change the NCAA made was to provide flexibility to return to college if they enter the NBA draft and do not get selected. Let’s face it, the main reason people go to college these days is that they think it will help them get a better job when they graduate. Basketball players are no different. If Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others dropped out of college to get a good “job,” then why shouldn’t a legitimate NBA prospect? The difference is that for Gates or Zuckerberg, the doors at Harvard was always open for them if they wanted to come back if things did not work out. Well, while a Duke, Kentucky or Kansas top prospect thinks they can make the NBA only to find out that they were not ready and go undrafted, why wouldn’t Duke, Kansas or Kentucky want them to come back? Well, NCAA rules made it an “exit only” proposition.
Not only that, it also stated that if you entered the draft and hired an agent, you would also become ineligible. As an 18- or 19- year old trying to make the biggest decision of their lives, why would we not want to allow them to get good advice? The best person to provide that advice is really an agent. We like to think that their college coach or an administrator is going to look out for their best interests but that is not really the case – they want you to come back to school and will try to push you in that status quo direction. Players sense that and there has been a sense of distrust about school representatives serving in that role.
Even an agent will have a bias – they want you to get to the NBA - however, they only make money if the player makes money. So, if it is not going to happen for the player, an agent will quickly realize it and can warn their client they will probably not get drafted. While this does not smell right either, here is how it is different. Agents maintain clients with success. So, if a player gets drafted, the agent looks like a hero. Conversely, Agents get fired when they do not produce: if a player was expecting to get drafted but doesn’t, the agent usually gets fired. Agents want player relationships though. So, if they see a player probably won’t make it that year, they can at least preserve the relationship till the following year by advising a player to go back to school for one more year. That at least gets the agent a shot at remaining that players agent by giving good practical advice whereas not pulling the player out of the draft would likely end the business relationship. For a teen without the money to pay other fees for getting proper advice, it is probably the next best option.
Current NCAA rules penalized a student-athlete if they guessed wrong. If you chose to pursue a pro career and you were not ready, you were otherwise stuck – not ready to be a professional and unable to return to NCAA basketball. So, that’s like telling a junior year student “you did not get the CFO position at a Fortune 500 company, so we cannot allow you to come back to finish your accounting degree!” That is insane, but that is the logic that existed in basketball as a way to discourage players from going pro. This is where the mindset and purpose of going to college has changed. College used to be about enlightenment – now, it is all about helping you to get a good job! So, if a player is not ready to be in the NBA, wouldn’t we take that student back in any other scenario? So, finally, the NCAA gets that and more players might have that opportunity to test the basketball waters but know exactly where they stand. So, if “ball” is not in the cards for them, they still have the opportunity to pursue that degree, get more experience, and find their way.
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) did not mind it. In fact, they are the ones who made the “one and done” rule which stated that a player could not go right from high school to the NBA draft and essentially set up the babysitting services of the NCAA to house them, feed them, and train them for a year. NBA teams had an easier burden scouting as it thinned the ranks a bit. Borderline NBPA members kept their jobs instead of looking them to the potential “next big thing.” The NCAA falsely thought that they needed these players to stay in college before realizing the there is also a “next great college player” regardless of where you draw that line.
Now, players can once again shoot for their dreams of playing professional basketball. And if they fail, they can continue to play in college -and possibly even pursue a degree- and try again the following year. For a young player with aspirations, this also helps them to see exactly where they fit in. If the NBA is not in their cards, what about playing in Europe, pursuing coaching, or – gasp – maybe even getting that accounting degree!
While this rule change is only for basketball, it should actually be universally applied to all sports. Considering how slow change is in the NCAA, at least this is a step in the right direction.