Time to Change How We Choose Talent in the NBA and NFL

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, May 3, 2013

Over the past week, two major events in talent management occurred in the NFL and NBA

Sunday, April 28 was the deadline for, basically, those basketball players who still have at least one year of college eligibility remaining to declare for the NBA draft. Similarly, this past weekend saw the 7 round NFL draft.

Unlike most organizations, where employers can choose to hire whomever they want at whatever rate of pay they want, and applicants can choose to apply at organizations where they want to work, the NBA and NFL have a restricted model of employment.  Instead of choosing one's employer, candidates must declare they are ready to turn from amateur athlete into a professional, and are subject to the whims of the professional teams if they are to be selected.  However, there is a risk involved, particularly for the player - once you make that declaration, in most instances, you cannot return to the amateur ranks.

This past weekend, 21 out of 73 (28.8%) early NFL entrants went undrafted.  This was only a slight improvement over 2012, where 20 out of 64 (31.3%) were not chosen.  The NFL has put in place a draft advisory committee to give advice about where players may potentially be drafted, but, in many instances, the advice is either misguided or goes unheeded.

Currently, few (if any) prospective NFL players take advantage of NCAA rule
In football, an enrolled student-athlete (as opposed to a prospective student-athlete) may enter the National Football League draft one time during his collegiate career without jeopardizing eligibility in that sport, provided the student-athlete is not drafted by any team in that league and the student-athlete declares his intention to resume intercollegiate participation within 72 hours following the National Football League draft declaration date.  The student-athlete's declaration of intent shall be in writing to the institution's director of athletics.  (Adopted: 10/31/02, Revised: 4/14/03, 12/15/06)
The NBA draft rules are just as convoluted.  The NCAA’s rule is that any player that has entered the NBA Draft with eligibility remaining and that hasn’t signed with an agent must withdraw their name from consideration by April 28th or lose their collegiate eligibility.  Once that April 28th date passes, you can choose not to be drafted, but you cannot return to college and play.  Further, the NBA has instituted an age rule regarding eligibility:
  • All drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft.  To determine whether a player is eligible for a given year's draft, subtract 19 from the year of the draft. If the player was born during or before that year, he is eligible.
  • Any player who is not an "international player", as defined in the CBA, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class.
With the April 28 date now passed, 46 players with college eligibility remaining joined 31 international players, as well as a bevy of college seniors, to enter a selection system with just two rounds and only 60 slots.  Quite a few are going to walk away disappointed.

Its understand why the rules exist....the NBA players union want to protect veteran players, and a greater influx of younger talent means less potential slots for older ones.  For college coaches, they want to better be able to project what their roster will look like for the upcoming year and plan for scholarships.

However, why should the player suffer with regard to bad advice.

So, here is what I propose:

1.  Eliminate all restrictions on who a team can draft. 

If an NBA or NFL team with the first pick wants to draft a high school player or one with college eligibility, let them.  That player can choose to sign with the team or not.

2.  However, the teams retains all rights to any player drafted only in the first round until their college eligibility is used up.

By maintaining rights to that player, even for years on end, they are able to hold on to a valuable asset.  That player can sign with the team, or they can also trade him away, if they are unable to sign him.  It would also be interesting to see some teams drafting later in the first round gamble on a player who may not turn pro initially.

3.  Eliminate the transfer rule of a player sitting out a year if he transfers.
Players might have signed with a school expecting minutes to be available to play based on a player likely entering the draft early.  Now, if a player doesn't go pro, he has the opportunity to play elsewhere without having to sit out a year.  Further, coaches are able to change schools without having to sit out a year.  The same luxury should be extended to players.

In sum, most players turn pro early because they anticipate being picked in the first round of the draft where money is guaranteed.  Further, it is extremely unlikely that any player chosen in the first 15 picks is going to turn down the money available to him.  Finally, players who did not get chosen in the round they expected can return to school without being penalized for poor advice.

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