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NCAA Basketball: The Proposed Draft Deadlines

If you thought the May 8th withdrawal date for the NBA was too short, wait until you get a gander at the new proposed deadline -- that would be before the first day of the spring signing period.  If that were this year, it would have been Tuesday. Of this week.

Mike Miller of NBC's Beyond the Arc is one of those understandably outraged:

The NCAA says the proposed rule change is intended to help players focus on academics during the spring semester, but that’s so disingenuous it’s worthy of a four-letter rant that I can’t provide here. We’re a family friendly site.

Instead, it’s to help coaches spend their Aprils by going fishing or golfing or whatever else they choose instead of helping their players make the best possible decision for their future. It’s completely ridiculous, unfair and self-serving.

Mike is right about it being self-serving, but I'm not really convinced it is designed to help coaches, although they surely do benefit.  But the move to benefit coaches was the one that happened last year, that moved the withdrawal deadline to May 8.  So why would the NCAA do this?

My perception of the NCAA as far as rules go is that it could care less about coaches.  If it did, it would eliminate the July evaluation period -- that would do far more to free up coaches time than this particular rule.  After all, most coaches are scrambling to grab last-minute recruits at this time of year.

So why narrow the aperture for entering the NBA almost to non-existence?  Well, to me it seems pretty straightforward -- the NCAA does not want players making informed decisions about the league.  Instead, it wants to make the barrier to league entry as high as possible, and one way of doing that is making it virtually impossible for players to get meaningful feedback from the NBA about their prospects.

In one way, Mike is absolutely right about this being unfair to the players -- players who are marginal, that is.  It isn't unfair to Harrison Barnes, or Brandon Knight, or Terrence Jones -- players who know they are first-round draft picks and about whom the only question is a matter of how high, not if.  Players like DeAndre Liggins or Travis Leslie, however, would be hamstrung by this rule.  For marginal players, the NCAA is now giving coaches the support they need to recommend another year in good conscience -- how could a coach recommend such a jump without having any idea what the landing would be like?

When we complain about the "one-and-done" rule, many people's problems with it are the fact that it hurts players' chances at obtaining an education and puts them into the NBA meat grinder too quickly, and also creates a lack of continuity for NCAA teams.  This rule appears intended to counteract that by forcing players to be more sure of themselves before they make the jump, or risk a hard landing in the NBADL or a choice to go to Europe to play.  In other words, this rule is entirely consistent with the NCAA's mission, which ostensibly is not to help refill the player ranks of the NBA, but to help young men and women get a college education.

Let's get one thing perfectly straight, and here is where Mike and I part ways -- the NCAA's interests are better served by this rule.  They have a legitimate interest in helping kids decide to stay in college longer, both for commercial self-serving reasons and for what they consider the best interests of the young men. This rule helps accomplish that, although in a somewhat cold-blooded way -- by denying them the ability to glean enough information from the league to make an informed decision when their prospects are marginal.  Really good players won't be affected, but the ones who are likely to go, say, from #20 on will have much more to think about.

The NCAA is ostensibly not in cahoots with the NBA to act as a farm team for the Association.  The NBA front offices, if left to their own devices, would surely make players stay at least three years in college before accepting them in the draft.  The NBA Player's Association strongly opposes that, rightly or wrongly, and this point in the college season is the nexus upon which all these three interests collide.  The NCAA is now baldly inserting its interests into the matter by forcing the NBA to find a mechanism to provide feedback while the professional season is still going on -- something the pros will probably be unwilling to do.

The complaint Mike is making, and with some justification, is that the NCAA is placing the future of some of these players in jeopardy.  The truth is though, that is only the case if they decide to leave college rather than stay.  What it is really doing is forcing young men to make big boy decisions without a safety net, something that all us adults who have been in the world a long time do every day.  They can do the safe thing -- stay in college, get better, maybe earn a degree that will help them if their hoops dreams land on the rocks, or close their eyes and jump.

So I guess the question of whether these young men's interests are being sacrificed is a matter of who is right about what those interests are, or rather, should be.