Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Undrafted underclassmen should be welcomed back to school

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of the podium and stage before the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of the podium and stage before the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Should undrafted underclassmen be welcomed back to NCAA basketball?

There has always been something magical about the NBA Draft for me. As a basketball junkie — I will watch any form I can get my hands on– I continuously hunker down in front of my television, computer and telephone and watch college players I have equally grown to love and hate, get their moment of glory with uninterrupted passion year after year.

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Heading into last week’s draft, I believed that there was nothing outside of an unforeseen family issue that would stop me from feasting on the obligatory booing of the commissioner, the outrageous hairstyles/suits/shoes, the crying, the hugging, and every so often, the occasional slip (looking at you Mr. Zach LaVine).

So I thought… but I’ll get there soon.

I still remember the first draft I watched in 1994. While I was only about six years old, this memory sticks because I was finally getting over Michael Jordan’s retirement and I wanted to see who the Chicago Bulls would draft to take his place.

I was six and that’s how six year old minds work.

While Dickey Simpkins ultimately did not become the next Jordan — though I got his Airness back a couple months later so no harm, no foul — I did end up developing my love for the NBA Draft somewhere during this event. I got hooked. There was just something dream-like about watching these dude’s lives change every few minutes that made me believe the world actually was full of rainbows and lollipops.

It was this awesome mixture of hope, wonder and 90’s-style wrapped into one big basketball related pot. And I ate it up.

And I ate it up. And I ate it up some more. If anything, it only got better as I got older.

Until this past week when it suddenly didn’t taste as good.

The emotions were still the same. And some of the players I equally loved and hated still got their moment of glory. But as we moved from the first to the tenth to the twentieth pick, I got a little sick…

… because the NCAA has broken one of my favorite sporting events.

In last Thursday’s draft, 29 of the 59 underclassmen that elected to give the NBA a go were selected in the two rounds; slightly edging out the underclass average of 28.6 (a stat that has been kept since 2006, the start of the one-and-done era). What is rather shocking (and horrifying if you ask me) was that there were 30 total underclassmen that were not selected.

Or, 30 underclassmen that should be able to come back to college — if they were to so choose — but can’t because it’s an NCAA stipulation that once you declare for the NBA — even without an agent — you are not eligible to return to the college ranks.

As a college basketball writer and someone that follows the game closely, that feeling I got as the second round crept closer and closer to its finale was dreadful.

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How could an establishment built around student (HYPHEN) athletes turn undrafted talented kids away? Why aren’t we giving these guys as many options as possible to continue growing their games as much as their minds and personalities? Why can an undrafted underclassman ONLY go NBA or to Europe? Wouldn’t it mutually beneficial for the NCAA to open their coveted gates back up for those players that didn’t sign an agent?

What other career could you choose to pursue that wouldn’t allow you to go back to your University of some extra seasoning?

As I thought more and more about it, I decided that there needs to be a change. Extending the declaration date — while it was a start — isn’t quite enough. The NCAA and NBA alike need to allow these players (most of which were swayed to enter the draft too early because of hanger-ons, agents, scouts, social media, etc.) the option to return back to their University ponds.

Now I know that there are a lot of moving parts and undeniable variables that would come along with allowing players to return and I can already hear the questions coming into your heads.

What if the player isn’t enrolled in the school but then wants to come back? Does he have to re-apply? What if he wasn’t in good academic standing? If the player wasn’t enrolled any more, would he have the option of transferring and playing right away? Doesn’t that open up free agency in college basketball?

Hey, didn’t the NCAA just change their rules, allowing these kids to get a better read of the landscape in front of them? Shouldn’t they be responsible for making a better decision?

What about those poor coaches? What do they do about that players scholarship? Do they have to sit and wait and hope the player comes back while potentially losing out on a possible junior college transfer or late signing?

I don’t have all of the answers to those questions. They are complicated, multi-layered and ever evolving. But what I do know is that the best answer to solve most of them while providing kids (these are KIDS we’re talking about) with as many options as possible lies somewhere within the current NHL Draft model.

From DraftSite.com:

"Eligibility: Any North American player who turns 18 by September 15 and does not turn 20 by Decemeber 31 is eligible for the draft. Any non-North American player can be drafted at any age if they are at least 18 by September 15. If a player is 18, they must declare themselves eligible, but if a player turns 19 by September 15th, they are automatically eligible for selection in the draft.Signability: If a player is not drafted by age of 20, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. A player not signed by drafted team within two years can reenter draft, assuming they are still eligible, and if they are not eligible, will become unrestricted an free agent. A team has the rights of an NCAA player until 30 days after the player leaves the college. If a player is drafted a second time, they can not reenter the draft. If a player has entered the draft twice and not been selected, they then become free agents regardless of age. A non-North American player can not be signed unless they are drafted first.Compensatory Picks: If a team does not sign their first-round pick within two years, they will be awarded a compensatory pick in the Draft immediately following. The pick will be in the 2nd round, equal to the selection number of the unsigned player. All other teams’ selections move back one spot."

Doesn’t some sort of hybrid system like this make the most sense for college basketball? Wouldn’t this give those 30 players three solid options to further their career, while simultaneously making the NCAA product better?

Wouldn’t this stop teams with draft picks late in the first round (and the entire second round) who also have salary cap issues from simply “Euro Stashing” over and over and over again, pushing some of those underclassmen with grandeur ideas of sugar plums dancing in their heads out of the draft entirely?

I bet Tom Izzo would think so:

"“I guarantee you there’s 10 american kids that are better than some of those guys, but when you can redshirt them and keep them over there, that makes it more convenient to draft, because you do retain those rights,” Izzo said."

Doesn’t this just flat out make sense? It’s not like the NCAA can’t pull it off. It’s already happening in the NHL and MLB.

Now I realize that NBA owner’s and GM’s alike would absolutely hate the idea of a collegiate “draft and stash” type system. It spells trouble for them. After all, the reason the “one-and-done” rule is even here in the first place is because they needed a way to protect themselves from themselves.

But at it’s fundamental core, not allowing 19 and 20-year old kids who got caught up in their dreams to continue their education both scholastically and basketball — more so of the latter — at the college level is just goofy.

And I’m surely not alone:

If I learned anything during my time at the University of Iowa it’s that it was the perfect time to make mistakes. I got more out of the lessons from my bad decisions than I did in my British Poetry class. And it wasn’t even close.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what college is for? Aren’t we supposed to learn how to make better judgements based on the facts presented to us just as much as we’re supposed to learn the anatomy of Shakespeare’s sonnets?

So why then are we going to punish someone that same opportunity just because they didn’t gather all of their facts? Because they were blinded by fame and fortune? Because they reached a little to early for their childhood dreams and got burned?

Plus, what would be better than giving a student-athlete — who was a borderline NBA talent — with remaining eligibility the option (and second chance, if you’d like to view it that way) to grow inside the college game instead of overseas or in the NBA Developmental League?

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So yes, undrafted prospects should be welcomed back to the college ranks, because if anything, it’s great for the game.