NBA Draft: How a Rule Change Put Student Athletes in Charge

A joint rule change by the NCAA and the NBA allows student athletes considering the NBA draft to test the waters before making a decision. The shift has won praise from a coaching association and others who say it puts more control in athletes' hands.

No matter how big a star you are, making the jump from the college hardwoods to the NBA can’t be an easy decision.

There’s a lot of risk involved: You don’t know whether you’re about to become the next Grant Hill (a major college star who did nearly as well in the NBA) or the next Ed O’Bannon (a major college star with a much less stellar pro career). And leaving school early, while it can pay dividends in the form of a contract, can disrupt your life in a big way—especially if you’re not ready for the pros or your draft pick ends up being a lot lower than anticipated.

This year, thanks to a new agreement between the NBA, the NCAA, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), players had until May 25 to decide whether they were going to make the big leap to the league. Previously, players had to make the decision by early April—just days after the Final Four, at which point a player could take part in the scouting combine. If the player fared poorly, the decision could prove to be a life-changing mistake.

Now, thanks to the five-week extension, players can take part in the league’s combine, try out with a few teams, then make the decision.

The move has won widespread plaudits. SB Nation‘s Ricky O’Donnell called the move “a rare NCAA rule change that’s actually favorable for student athletes.”

NABC characterized the change as “really student-athlete-friendly.” The group’s Jim Haney said the earlier rule put student athletes at a disadvantage. It “was meant to help coaches know with certainty what their roster would look like for the next year, but the reality is, it wasn’t helping kids make informed decisions,” Haney told The New York Times.

Isaiah Whitehead is one of the players who benefited from the extension this spring. “I couldn’t even imagine being in the draft last year where you had to submit your name and then you’re done,” Whitehead, who played at Seton Hall University, told SB Nation. “The deadline … was so early. Everything happened after that. Then once you were in it, you were stuck.”

Whitehead ultimately decided to jump into the draft, doing so with an understanding of what teams in the league look for.

The NBA likes the new rule, too, because it encourages players to spend more time in college before joining the league.

The change isn’t perfect: College coaches have to wait longer for their players’ decisions, and NBA teams had a busier schedule before this year’s deadline, due to the numerous new players trying out.

But ultimately, the shift ensures that student athletes who will take part in the draft on June 23 are armed with a lot more knowledge about what’s coming.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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