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Improvements to NCAA’s awful college basketball amateurism rules come with a bucket full of caveats

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NCAA Men’s Final Four - Previews Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Every college athlete is getting screwed to some degree by the NCAA, all in the name of money, but few get a shorter end than basketball players. They can’t consult with an agent during the draft process. They can’t come back to school if they go undrafted, and they aren’t allowed to skip college and go straight to the NBA. All of that sucks and is stupid and terrible.

The NCAA is ready to change that ... uh, kinda, but not really, but maybe. It felt like a bold proclamation this afternoon when the NCAA announced adjustments to its rules that, among other things, allow players to consult with agents after declaring for the draft.

But only a select few high school prospects, for example, will ever be allowed this privilege. Note the language and the rather important caveat in italics at the end:

Pending a decision by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, high school basketball players can be represented by an agent beginning July 1 before their senior year in high school, provided they have been identified as an elite senior prospect by USA Basketball.

The effective date will be decided if/when the NBA and the NBPA permit high school students to enter the draft.

So this exceptionally basic, common sense benefit will only be implemented for high school players whenever the NBA decides to excise the one-and-done rule. That’s gonna be a while, even assuming it is inevitable. And IF you are to receive this sort of special access, you have to be the best of the best, or, ahem, “identified as an elite senior prospect by USA Basketball.”

How exactly would one establish which players qualify as “elite” in these terms? Are they the top 10 kids in the recruiting cycle? The top 20? Will it be fluid? Will Joe Flacco be on the panel? Well let’s just check with the NBA maybe they’ve got some insight on this business.

Oh. ... I see. Theoretically, at some point, possibly, high school seniors will be able to consult with an agent, but only after the NBA makes it possible for this to be a thing. I’m sure they’ll get this worked out overnight.

And why so particular? I understand that the NCAA’s entire existence relies on the existence and popularity of college basketball, since they derive almost all of their revenue from the NCAA tournament—I get it, I get the shallow, greedy reasons for being so terrified of agents. But what real harm is there in simply allowing every single high school player the option of consulting with an agent, if they want to? College baseball seems to manage okay.

Some sanity here does exist for the kids who declare for the NBA while in college—they are allowed to consult with an agent throughout the draft process without losing their eligibility. That is effective immediately and does not require any legislative adjustments on the NBA’s side.

College players are also allowed now to go through the entire draft process—including the draft itself!—without losing eligibility. That is a great. For some. For the kids eligible to take advantage of this. There are requirements involved—for one thing, you have to be an NBA Combine invitee, so not just everybody who declares gets to maintain their amateur status in this way.

Since 2016, college athletes who are interested in going pro have been able to declare for the draft and attend the NBA combine but have been required to withdraw no more than 10 days after the combine to stay eligible. Now, students who wish to enter the draft also must request an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which will provide valuable information to assist student-athletes in making the decision to turn pro or stay in school.

College basketball players who request an Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation, participate in the NBA combine and aren’t drafted can return to school as long as they notify their athletics director of their intent by 5 p.m. the Monday after the draft.

This change is effective if/when the NBA and NBPA make an expected rule change, which would make undrafted student-athletes who return to college after the draft ineligible for the NBA until the end of the next college basketball season.

(bolding mine)

And then there is that other thing, down there in very quiet italics, the whole “we’ll do this after the NBA passes some legislation that we have deemed necessary to do this.” The legislation in this case is a specific rule prohibiting undrafted college players who return to school from being able to play in the NBA that following season. So you can’t just get up and join the Spurs in mid-December after going undrafted the June prior, which I guess is a thing that NCAA officials worry a lot about kids doing?

Achieving the various good ideas that have been forcefully suggested today by the NCAA doesn’t actually have to be difficult. It is, though, because money. Again, the NCAA’s entire wealthy existence literally relies on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and so of course they are dead terrified of changing much up.

The batch of pretend-cares issued by the NCAA today are all good ideas—and also things they’re pleased to legislate into so many bullet points they no longer exist in the real world.