Thursday, June 19, 2008

Testing the Waters

Over the past few months, there has a lot of talk about changing the NBA Draft's "Testing the Waters" rule, which allows underclassmen are allowed to declare for the NBA Draft with the caveat that they can withdraw before a certain date (June 16th this year, ten days before the draft) and maintain their eligibility (they are only allowed to test the waters once - the second time they declare the player loses their eligibility). And this year, the NBA and the NCAA have done away with the rule requiring returning players to pay back the costs of their pre-draft workouts.

Jay Bilas has been outspoken against the rule (see here and here), as has Dickie V. Fellow ESPN writers Andy Glockner and Dana O'Neill have also been critical of the process (is it just me or is it a little odd that no one at ESPN other than Chad Ford has been in favor of the rule. Maybe it has something to do with the worldwide leader's college basketball coverage and the huge amount of money involved).

I know and understand all the arguments against testing the waters. It hurts the coaches from a recruiting standpoint, especially those at the mid-major level, for two reasons. First, by not knowing if a player is coming back, it makes it tough to sign recruits in the spring, especially if you are trying to guard against the early entrant leaving a hole in your line-up - the recruit will not know if there is actually going to be playing time available. Adding to that is the problem of scholarships. Each school is allowed 13 and the player testing the waters needs one if he chooses to return, so the coach can recruit for the spot but cannot officially offer the scholarship until the player decides on his draft future.

The other argument is that once a player declares and comes back, no matter what he does the following year or how much he improves his game, he will not be able to live down the impressions that NBA scouts already have. The best example of this is Jameer Nelson, who decided to withdraw from the draft his junior. During his senior year, he only led St. Joe's to an undefeated regular season and a John Lucas III three away from the Final Four, and earned national Player of the Year honors. Despite all of that, however, Nelson still dropped to 20th, the same range he was projected to go his junior year and after the likes of Luke Jackson, Robert Swift, and Sebastian Telfair. 

I get all of that. What I don't get is why people will be so against one of the few rules that actually benefits the players. Take last year for example. According to Mike DeCourcy of Yahoo Sports, last year 53 players left school early for the draft. 22 of them returned to school, while 27 spent time on an NBA roster. That means that 49/53 potential early entrants, or 92.5%, benefitted from the way that the draft process was structured. How is that a bad thing? Take a look at some of the examples. 

Brandon Rush blew out his ACL during the workout process and was able to return to school, where he won a national championship with Kansas and has set himself up to be a mid-first round pick. If he was forced into the 2007 NBA Draft, he probably would not have been picked as high, and would have faced an uphill battle to earn a contract and make it in the NBA. The same thing happened with Dee Brown before the 2006 draft.

What about Dominic James? He declared early for the 2007 draft because of the great crop of point guard's in this years draft, but decided to return (he didn't declare for this draft so he will graduate) because he didn't lie where he was going to get picked. If he had left in 2007, would he still be in the league right now? Would he have gotten his degree? How are any of these three situations bad? 

There are always going to be players that make poor decisions regarding the draft (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute this year, guys like Olu Famitini, Kennedy Winston, Randolph Morris, this list goes on and on) and there will always be guys who are happy to be drafted in the second round and try to earn their spot on an NBA team. The worst that happens is these guys end up earning a paycheck overseas or in the NBDL. But these are the guys that are going to be leaving regardless, and maybe even can be convinced to come back as a result of poor performances in the pre-draft camp and workouts. Worst-case scenario - more players end up coming back to school. How is that a bad thing for college basketball OR for the players? 

The only people it is bad for is the coaches, who already make ridiculous sums of money. How much do the players make? Nothing. Even is you count the combined cost of all of the scholarships, it doesn't equal what most coaches make per year. 

Maybe it's because I used to play, maybe it's because I'm younger and still have the point of view (and values) of the guys playing, but I really just don't see how letting players go through the draft process and THEN decide whether or not to stay in the draft is bad for college basketball. If anything, move up the pre-draft camp and the deadline for keeping your name in the draft, or maybe even create a rule where your allowed fourteen scholarships one year if you offer too many scholarships and then have a player come back (although that is a bit of a slippery slope). Whatever it is that happens, don't take away the one advantage the players have in the business known as basketball.

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