New draft rule serves up confusion

March, 22, 2012
03/22/12
11:06
AM ET
The ACC coaches introduced the latest NBA draft rule in 2009 to protect themselves from being held hostage by a decision-making process that could last for months.

At first, the NCAA went for a compromise date of May 8, which cut down the "testing process" by a month. That has been in effect for the past two seasons.

The NCAA took it one step further for this draft cycle, but it may get burned again.

The new draft rule, which is not universally known, calls for all underclassmen to indicate whether they're in or out of the NBA draft on April 10, one week after the Final Four ends and a day before the month-long spring signing period.

The objective is to allow college coaches a chance to replace a player leaving for the draft -- which is almost comical since there's no way a team could find a spring replacement for a high-level draftee.

But there is a flaw in this rule that the NBA and agents have taken notice of recently.

An underclassman can say on April 10 that he's returning to school, but he can still declare for the NBA draft by the league's April 29 deadline. The NBA doesn't acknowledge the April 10 date and will only put out an underclassmen list for prospective teams on May 2, after its own deadline and not the NCAA's.

That means someone like North Carolina's Harrison Barnes could tell coach Roy Williams that he's coming back to school, but then after potentially talking to agents for two weeks, he could declare for the draft without any problem.

"It's the dumbest thing ever," said Kentucky coach John Calipari. "It's stupid. If this is about the kids, then that's the last thing this is about."

Calipari said he will meet with his players after the season, but he'll have to explain that there is no longer a testing process. You're either in or you're out.

And the lack of knowledge on the draft rule is widespread. A number of agents told ESPN.com on Wednesday that they're scrambling to inform prospective clients about the new rule. There is a perception that underclassmen can try out for teams, as has been the case for the past two seasons with the May 8 deadline. But they can't.

"Based on our conversations with various NCAA schools regarding requests for evaluation of our undergraduate committee, we're getting the sense that many schools, players and families are not aware of the new date or its implication," said Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations. "They think they can work out for NBA teams."

Jackson said underclassmen cannot work out for teams until they are notified about who is eligible for the draft. They won't get that list until May 2.

A year ago, the NCAA invited agent Mark Bartelstein to its Indianapolis headquarters. The topic was how players can avoid making poor decisions on their draft status. The consensus at the time was that players needed more time, not less.

Well, somehow less time is exactly what they got.

Villanova's Maalik Wayns will now stay in the draft. He initially announced last week that he was declaring but not signing with an agent. That meant he was going to test the process. But what was he testing? Wayns couldn't have worked out with NBA teams, and he could have received advice or a draft range from teams at any point during the season. ESPN's Jay Williams has reported that Duke's Mason Plumlee was planning on "testing the waters," too.

This change in the rule has been met with disdain from one of the NCAA's harshest critics.

"This is the most egregious thing the NCAA has done," said former grassroots basketball advocate and longtime shoe company liaison Sonny Vaccaro. "They are empowering themselves for the benefit of themselves. There is no turning back from this decision. They've drawn the line in the stand. The athletes have no rights. "This is so self-serving to coaches to guarantee that players will play on their teams."

Vaccaro said that the coaches who voted for this rule "are some of the most egregious people. They're asking these kids to play for them and protect them, but all they're doing is protecting themselves. They are preventing the players from getting a chance to see their value."

The argument for the NCAA is that scouts spend thousands of dollars evaluating these guys during the regular season. The problem is that NBA teams aren't focused on the draft until they are eliminated from the playoffs. And coaches don't get a chance to watch workouts until the spring.

An underclassman has lost his right to work out for a team and still return to school. But he can still declare for the draft on April 29, even if he says he's coming back to school 19 days prior to that date.

The draft rule has changed countless times. And each year there is always someone who doesn't know it and seeks an appeal for reinstatement.

The NBA doesn't care about the April 10 date. It has its own set date of April 29 and a withdrawal date 10 days before the June draft.

Some college coach is going to get burned thinking his player is coming back. An agent will have two-plus weeks to work on that player and change his mind. And when that happens, the college coach/coaches can't complain.

They should just settle on the NBA's date and get rid of the confusion.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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