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Draft Deadlines Facing NCAA Underclassmen

College players, college coaches, NBA personnel and members of the media continue to be confused about the parameters of NCAA eligibility and the NBA draft, according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress. Rule changes instituted for 2012 severely limited the amount of time underclassmen have to decide about entering the draft and the amount of contact they can have with NBA teams if they wish to retain the ability to pull out and return to college. Givony authored a definitive piece on the altered landscape in 2012, and he did the same last year. Since the process still remains unclear to many, Givony has followed up once more. Givony lays out the key dates involved, which are as follows:

April 9: NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee Application Deadline
April 14: NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee Response Deadline
April 15: NCAA Early Entry “Withdrawal” Deadline
April 27: NBA Draft Early Entry Eligibility Deadline (10:59 pm CT)
May 2: NBA Draft early entry candidates released — Contact with underclassmen permitted
May 14-18: NBA Draft Combine (Chicago)
May 20: NBA Draft Lottery
June 16: NBA Draft Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline (4:00 pm CT)
June 26: 2014 NBA Draft

It’s the April 15th date that’s at the heart of the recent changes. That deadline typically came in early May until 2012, and the extra time gave prospects a chance to work out with a couple of NBA teams and allowed for a week of direct access to NBA executives. Under the new rules, an underclassman can’t work out or speak with NBA teams at all if he wishes to retain the ability to return to college. Only the player’s college head coach may have any contact with NBA front offices, and that contact may only be with the primary executive in charge of basketball operations, typically the general manager. That means there’s no such thing as “testing the waters” anymore, as Givony puts it.

The change incentivizes players to wait to officially declare their intent to enter the draft until the NBA’s April 27th deadline to do so, which is almost two weeks after the April 15th date to withdraw and head back to college. That way, if a player were to suffer an injury or have a change of heart in that 12-day period, he could still go back to school, Givony explains. There’s little or no advantage to declaring early, given the limited amount of information-gathering allowed.

Underclassmen may seek advice from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which consists of executives from 20 NBA clubs. Still, their projections tend to be conservative about a player’s draft stock, and executives admit they don’t have a clear picture of how the draft will go until long after the committee makes its recommendations. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge recently told Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe that most mock drafts aren’t accurate until June. The committee response deadline of April 14th leaves underclassmen with as little as one day to consider the advice before the deadline for withdrawing and retaining college eligibility. Still, a player can receive feedback from the committee without ever declaring for the draft, as Givony points out.

The NCAA says it instituted these changes to give college teams greater certainty about their rosters for the coming season and to keep prospects focused on academics, but not all coaches are in favor of the measure, Givony notes. The NCAA’s motivation instead appears to be aimed at protecting its business interests and keeping prospects in school, as Givony argues. Still, a long list of underclassmen wound up declaring for the draft last year and not returning to college. Of course, many of the players on that register of early entrants didn’t come from the NCAA. Prospects who are playing overseas or in the D-League aren’t bound by the NCAA, so they can withdraw as late as 10 days before the draft.

College players receive back-channel communication from teams throughout the year in spite of the rules, but this dialogue can be unreliable, as Givony explains. He suggests, for instance, that a team with multiple second-round picks would have motivation to convince as many prospects as possible to come out.

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