Last week, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari did more to advance the cause of college basketball players and improve the game than any rule that has been implemented in the last ten years. With the reduction of the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds and the extension of the NBA draft exploration process, the stakeholders in college basketball are attempting to make the game more appealing to fans. The latter has a chance to improve the quality of the game more than any in-game rule change designed to create more action on the court.
The extension of the draft exploration process will lead to an increase in the number of players staying in school longer in the years to come. With more experienced players in the college game, shooting percentages should increase while seeing a decrease in turnovers. You may also see fewer transfers as rosters will have fewer holes fill caused by early departures. The more accurate information the players in men’s college basketball have regarding their draft status, the better decisions they will make about their future.
However, the new NCAA draft rules do not go far enough. I have often wondered what would happen if every draft eligible college basketball player entered the NBA draft and did not withdraw their names. Understand, who is allowed to apply for the NBA draft is determined by the NBA Player’s Association and the NBA owners. When I hear people say, the NCAA should do away with the one and done rule, the fact is the NCAA cannot do anything about it, period! As one former NBA player told me, the NBA owners would allow eighth-graders into the draft if the players gave up guaranteed contracts. The one and done rule is a business decision, not an attempt at social engineering.
However, the NCAA does determine who can remain eligible after going through the professional sports draft. If the NCAA truly wanted to help the student-athletes trying figure out their earning potential, they should provide college basketball players with the same opportunities afforded to college baseball and men’s hockey players. The athletes in hockey and baseball are allowed to go through the draft, negotiate with the help of an advisor, and then make a decision on whether they should give up their eligibility or return to school. Most intelligent people make life-changing decisions based on complete information. Very few of us would give up a job, for the chance of getting a better job, based on the promise of a third party not involved in the decision-making process of that potential employer.
What exactly would the NCAA do if every draft eligible basketball player entered the draft and kept their names in the draft after the drop-out date, rendering themselves technically ineligible? Would we see the equivalent of the 1987 NFL season, when replacement players were used to fill out rosters during the work stoppage enacted by the player’s union. The NCAA could allow all players who are not happy with their draft results to come back to school with their eligibility restored. Understand, I am not asking for new legislation to be passed by the NCAA. I am simply saying the NCAA should give college basketball players the same rights they give to men’s hockey and baseball players.
It is an open secret that college baseball and college hockey players have advisors/agents who help them to make this very complicated decision. However, basketball and football players risk losing their eligibility and face public shaming if they dare to even have a conversation with an agent. If we want to help college basketball players, put them in a position where the free-market can give them the information they need to make the critical decision of whether they should go pro or stay in school.
If you look at college hockey, there are approximately 90 players who have been drafted by NHL clubs who are playing NCAA hockey. Among those 90 drafted players, who chose to stay in school, around 25 were 1st or 2nd round picks. It is not unusual to see college hockey players sign NHL contracts following the NCAA season, when their value may be at its peak. It is also probably not a coincidence that college hockey players have, according to College Hockey Inc, a 92 percent graduation rate. Mike Snee from College Hockey Inc told me the that draft process does a lot to help college hockey players appreciate the importance of a college education. In fact, college hockey is becoming the preferred route to the NHL over junior hockey, because the opportunity to get a college education while improving as a hockey player makes sense.
I will not attempt to guess why basketball and football players are treated so differently than their fellow student-athletes, but I am convinced if given the same level of information, more players that would choose to stay in school in the two revenue-producing sports. Furthermore, the relationship between coach and player would be healthier and the ability of third parties to disrupt the focus a student-athlete would be greatly diminished.
The NCAA cannot control who is allowed enter the draft in the either the NBA or NFL, but they can help the young men interested in going pro to find out if they are good enough. If we want to see the quality of play in college basketball improve, allowing players to return to school after the draft would be a giant step in the right direction.