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The New NCAA Draft Deadline: Good For Coaches, Colleges And Seniors, Bad For Everyone Else

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There has been much Sturm und Drang about the new NCAA draft entry deadline, which has been moved from May 8th to the end of the late signing period, which this year would have been April 12th, a mere 8 days removed from the NCAA Tournament championship game.  The rule has been universally panned by virtually the entire NCAA basketball commentariat.

First, some background.  Last year, the draft decision deadline changed to May 8th from sometime in June at the insistence of the ACC coaches.  This year, that same group proposed moving it all the way back to the end of the late signing period, which is sometime in mid-April, effectively eliminating the utility of the "testing the waters" process.

Now, before you go off and blame Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, let's remember that they didn't pass the rule, the entirety of the NCAA did -- the ACC coaches merely proposed it.  That means that most schools are on board with this thing, even if some coaches and schools may not be.  The NCAA is, at its core, a democratic institution where all schools have a more or less equal say.

There is no doubt that this new deadline hurts players.  It doesn't hurt the Brandon Knights or the Terrence Jones', but it really does hurt the late-to-marginal first-round picks like Shelvin Mack.  These types of players count on the evaluation period, known as "testing the waters," where college players can declare for the draft and then, after some workouts and getting some feedback from professional teams, decide whether to stay in the draft or return to school.  This latest NCAA rule has the effect of making the so-called "testing the waters" period all of one week during the NBA playoffs, which effectively renders it non-existent for its intended purpose.

The outrage has been directed primarily at college coaches, but they are only the vehicle here, and quite possibly are acting as a foil for the NCAA proper.  This was a decision made mostly by college athletics administrators and presidents.  So while it would be convenient to point the finger at the "multi-millionaire coaches" as so many people have done, the blame, if blame there is, should be shared equally with the college administrations.  The fact that their interests run directly parallel with that of the coaches makes the proposal by coaches more a matter of convenience than anything else.  It would have eventually been proposed by administrators if the coaches did not have the guts to do it.

So why was this decision made?  Money, pure and simple.  The NCAA is fed up with losing their talented players early every year to the NBA.  They are tired of the NBA doing things that benefit the Association and harm the revenue stream of college sports.  As usual, its all about the money, and money is what puts students in the classroom and teams on the hardwood.

There is no doubt that this decision harms the NBA.  They are now faced with making riskier draft picks when you get outside the draft lottery, which likely means the stock of more experienced players will go up compared to the talented youngsters. That suits the NCAA just fine, as they would much prefer to see their four-year seniors have a chance to earn higher draft picks and the "one and done" freshmen sweat it out a little if they decide to take the plunge rather than returning to school.

This decision definitely hurts underclassmen who develop from the lower prospect levels to the upper ones through years of NCAA play.  They are the ones who most often wind up as later picks, and as a result, they are the ones who will be taking the greatest chances with the new deadlines.

One group this decision helps are college seniors who exhaust their eligibility.  They will be able to be much more of a "known" quantity to the NBA, and even if it won't quite put them on par with their more talented underclass teammates, it will serve to make them more attractive at the lower picks than marginal underclassmen.

I think this possibility is largely overlooked by the commentariat..  Players who spend four years in college have been greatly marginalized by the "one and done" rule since it was implemented, and underclassmen have a great advantage over the seniors in that the system as currently instituted is actually designed to benefit underclassmen more than a player who finishes school.  This new rule levels that playing field somewhat.

It's ironic that many of the same people who bemoan the preponderance of early entry and lack of players graduating college now attack the NCAA for taking an action that makes the decision to return to school easier and less risky.  When you don't know whether or not you are a first-rounder, its less risky to come back until you are sure, and oh, by the way, earn an education in the process.

I don't want to give credit where it isn't due, and I don't really think the NCAA was trying to help anybody but themselves with this decision.  I look at this as more of a slap at the NBA, who is patently and happily using NCAA schools for their minor leagues rather than taking the time and investing the capital to turn the NBADL into a viable alternative to college for players out of high school.  The NBA has been getting the NCAA to do that job for them at the NCAA's expense, and the administrators are sick of it. 

I don't blame them.  The NBA uses the Players Association's reticence as an excuse not to implement a more viable eligibility rule (like, say, major league baseball's), and by doing so not only sap the NCAA of the players it needs to make it popular (and profitable), but shames them into bending over backwards -- its all about the kids, you know -- to help underclassmen leave their school and opt for an early pro career.  This has always been a one-way benefit, and you can sell anything to Americas by invoking the "welfare of the kids," no matter how dubious its actual utility.

The underclassmen, however, are caught in the middle.  I think there is way too much hyperbole surrounding this decision, though, because underclassmen going to the NBA has become such a part of college basketball culture that nobody looks at the consequences to anyone but them.  It's as if graduating seniors are considered the second-class citizens of college basketball, and that the only thing that matters is the welfare of talented underclassmen who may make a bad decision to leave early.  That's too bad.

In the end, this new rule is just another shot in the ongoing battle for dollars between the NCAA and the NBA.  That's all it is, no matter who's ox gets gored or who benefits outside of the two organizations.