The NCAA's Amateurism Rules -- Who Benefits?

The recent change in the amateurism rules that are likely to allow Enes Kanter to play immediately for the Kentucky Wildcats next year got me to wondering -- if a "professional" basketball player accepts no money from a team for playing basketball, is he really a "professional?"

That's the thinking behind the recent rule changes that mainly effect foreign players.  In Europe and other foreign countries, professional basketball clubs exist, but sometimes young people play with them without accepting any money in order to improve their game and raise their standing for professional leagues both in the United States and elsewhere.  Such was the case for Enes Kanter.

Extending this question further, I have to wonder if the NCAA is not doing grave damage to the future of a lot of young men who, for misguided or misinformed reasons, decide to leave early for the NBA and get caught up in its gears, going undrafted and sentenced to wander the comparative wasteland of the NBADL or try to get contracts overseas.

Here is the premise of my question -- If a player does not accept money from a professional team in America or elsewhere, why should he be ineligible after entering the draft and staying in past the deadline?  Kentucky player Randolph Morris exploited just this principle a few years back, but the NCAA quickly closed that loophole by enacting legislation that makes you a professional if you don't withdraw by the deadline.

More after the jump.

Here's the problem as I see it -- If it is going to be okay for foreign players to be associated at some level with professional sports and be able to retain amateur status, it's hard to explain why a college player could not do the same thing -- i.e. return to college after the draft failed to select him or her.

Now, the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement currently prevents players from entering the draft more than once, and effectively grants players free agent status after not being selected in the draft.  If those players were allowed to return to college, it would create the same problems as Randolph Morris' eventual reinstatement did -- any team at any time could offer him a job as a professional basketball player at anytime during the season.  That's really intolerable, because it wouldn't be long before NBA teams with playoff needs started raiding colleges for players when they wound up short personnel due to injury or some other problem.  More on that coming up.

My main point here is that the NCAA's amateurism rules are highly arbitrary and potentially have nothing to do with actual professionalism.  So why not allow players to return to school (assuming they repay any money put up by teams for workouts, etc.) with a stipulation on their grant in aid agreement that prohibits them from playing the sport for which they receive scholarship consideration professionally for the duration of the grant in aid offer (i.e. 1 college year).  Any college could offer them a scholarship -- of course, the transfer rule would fully apply, requiring them to serve a year in residence, just like for other transfers.

The benefit to the players would be obvious -- return to school (assuming a school still wants them) and progress further toward a degree, as well as honing their basketball skills.  The benefit to the schools would be much more problematic, as they would wind up waiting until June to know if the player would be eligible for reinstatement.  And if the player was not offered an NBA contract next time around (remember, he could not enter the draft), he could sign another grant in aid agreement under the same terms, assuming one was offered.

I expect that some players would not be able to return to college because coaches would be unwilling to hold open their scholarship for so long, but most surely would.  "But what's to prevent every player in America from entering the draft," you ask?  Nothing.  But if they do, the coach could decide which of them to pick back up after the draft, leaving the rest to fend for themselves.  In other words, the coach could recruit freely, and just offer the best of those who declared the opportunity to return if they are undrafted.  Whoever suggested that there should be zero risk in such a decision, especially if players decided to try to exploit it?  The other undrafted players could always accept an offer from another institution and sit out a year in residence.

It's a difficult situation, for sure, but I do think that if you accept no actual money for playing a sport, there is no rational way you can be considered "professional."  That's the message of the rule change Enes Kanter will benefit from.  Why should only foreign players get the benefit of the doubt?

At the end of the day, if the NCAA is going to be about maximizing opportunities for students, be they athletes or not, the current amateurism rules are highly arbitrary and greatly slanted against the best academic and future success interests of the student athlete.  Of course, the colleges and NCAA have interests here, too, which must be balanced. 

The NBA has no interests that need be considered by the NCAA, except as they impact the viability of their amateurism rules.  The NBA certainly doesn't care about the NCAA's problems, so why should the NCAA be whatever concerned about the NBA?  The job of NCAA institutions is to educate, and increasing that opportunity should be a fundamental objective.  The job of the NBA is to make money.

In the end, my question is this -- why do foreigners get to play without pay and retain eligibility, but Americans (who, theoretically, are the main subject at interest here) lose their amateur status for merely declaring themselves eligible for the draft whether they take money or not?

The floor is open for discussion.

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