Rule Changes, Coronavirus Complicate Draft Process For Early Entrants

The NCAA adjusted its rules last year to allow early entrants to hire an agent while testing the NBA draft waters, giving those players the chance to maintain their college eligibility if they eventually withdraw from the draft. However, as Jonathan Givony of ESPN explains, the restrictions attached to that rule change and the unusual nature of this year’s pre-draft process will make things more difficult for NCAA underclassmen weighing whether or not to go pro.

In order to maintain his college eligibility, an early entrant testing the waters can’t be represented by an agent who isn’t NCAA-certified. However, as Givony writes, most established NBA agents have opposed the NCAA’s certification process, pointing to its “overly burdensome procedures and oversight.” Only 23 agents are currently NCAA-certified and many of those agents don’t currently represent an NBA player, according to Givony.

NBA agents outside of that group of 23 NCAA-approved reps can still advise early entrants, but they’re prohibited from marketing athletes to professional teams or from providing benefits of any kind, per Givony.

[RELATED: 2020 NBA Draft Early Entrants List]

In other words, dozens of early entrants will have to decide whether to navigate the pre-draft process with a potentially inexperienced agent from the small NCAA-certified group or with a more experienced advisor who can offer limited help due to a lack of NCAA certification. Additionally, given the coronavirus-related uncertainty surrounding the draft, many agents who have NBA clients aren’t actively looking to rep early entrants this spring, Givony notes.

“This is not a time to be adding players to your client list; it’s a time to consolidate,” one agent told ESPN. “I’ll take a no-brainer first-round pick if he falls into my lap, but anything beyond that I’d have to think long and hard about this year. Normally I’d be interested in taking a flier on a kid testing the waters in hopes of developing a relationship for next year, but there’s very little that I can actually do to help someone right now with the amount of uncertainty surrounding the professional basketball world.”

NCAA restrictions related to representation and benefits, combined with an NBA draft calendar that may not include usual events like the combine, will make this year’s pre-draft process more complicated than ever. According to Givony, a number of sources he spoke to were skeptical that players, agents, college coaches, teams, and the NCAA will all be able to comfortably navigate that process. That could result in eligibility issues for college players who test the waters and then want to return to school.

“Are they (the NCAA) really going to forfeit the remaining college eligibility of 90% of the players that come back, including some of the best players in the country?” one college coach asked, per Givony. “This is going to be a total mess that we’ll have to clean up this fall. My guess is some players weren’t aware of the rules, and will end up getting scared they can’t go back, forcing them to leave school and then go undrafted because of this.”

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