Forget the even-handed headline. Discard the soft language. Neglect the subtle caveats.
Let's just call a spade a spade: The NCAA's decision to further shorten the NBA draft early-entry deadline is one of the silliest, most cynical and least student-athlete-friendly decisions ever.
Last year, the NCAA shrunk the early-entry deadline to May 8. That shortened the time of those players testing the NBA draft waters -- you know, trying to figure out their professional futures -- by 40 days. Why? Because the ACC's coaches were frustrated by the oh-so-difficult task of recruiting players in the spring signing period without knowing which current players would ultimately leave school. They came up with the plan, voted on it, agreed it was just a dandy idea, emailed it over to the NCAA and voila! Done deal.
A year later, here we are again. The ACC's coaches drafted a new proposal, one that moves the early-entry deadline all the way up to the day before the beginning of the spring signing period. In 2011, that date -- April 12 -- would have passed us by weeks ago. It would have given underclassman prospects exactly eight days after the national title game to decide whether they wanted to go pro or stay in school for another year. It would have -- I mean, it will; I'm still having trouble with the idea that this is actually happening -- forced players with millions of dollars on the line to make life-altering decisions in the matter of a few days with minimal information on which to make them.
Under this rule, there's no "testing the waters." There's no information gathering. There's only the choice. Make it or don't. Stay or leave. Dive in or stay on the shore. And good luck with whatever is in that water when you get wet.
Consider how the typical college student goes about turning his collegiate experience into a profession. She gets to take internships. She gets to make contacts. She gets to interview anywhere and everywhere that is interested in interviewing her. She visits those offices, gets familiar with her future co-workers, learns what she can about the relevant cities. If she's lucky, she gets an offer or two and she has weeks, even months, to decide which option is best.
Now imagine if that same student was legally disallowed from talking to anyone associated with her profession for the entirety of her four years in school. Then, eight days after graduation -- big day, family's in town, bring the camera -- she is told that she may or may not have a chance to get a job, but she doesn't get to know where. She doesn't know how much money she'll make. She doesn't know what city she'll live in. She doesn't even know if she'll actually get a job. Oh, and one more thing: If she leaves school but doesn't get a job in her chosen profession, she's not allowed to go back to school and buttress her academic credentials. But hey: There's always jobs in Europe!
That's an imperfect analogy, but you get the idea. See how utterly ridiculous this is? How antithetical to the mission of college athletics it seems?
And why is the NCAA doing this? What's the grand reason for this massive change? So college basketball coaches -- those poor, bereft, designer suit-clad millionaires -- can know without any uncertainty whether they need to sign another recruit in the spring.
I hate being the outraged, angry sportswriter. I hate it. I also hate the reflexive anti-NCAA tone that most fans tend to take anytime the NCAA does anything even slightly inconsistent or questionable. But come on, guys. Not only did you allow this rule to pass, but you released the news in an indirect one-sentence announcement at the end of an otherwise unrelated press release. That release is here. The sentence reads as follows:
"Additionally, all legislation adopted by the Legislative Council earlier this month is now considered adopted."
Oh, OK! Good to know!
Come on, NCAA: At this point, you're asking for it. And you deserve every bit.
The only worthwhile caveats here -- OK, so you can stop ignoring them now -- are as follows:
1. This rule might not survive the year. The NCAA could still override the adoption of the rule, bring it to review in January and vote it down. That seems incredibly unlikely, but it's a possibility. (We got it here because the NCAA legislative council approved the measure earlier this month, and the NCAA Board of Directors took no action on it Thursday, which by default makes it a new rule.)
2. Maybe -- maybe -- Bylaw Blog's John Infante is right in saying that the rule could limit the number of players who open themselves up to bad advice in the water-testing process and end up making bad decisions they wouldn't otherwise have made.
You don't need me to tell you that those are some pretty weak caveats.
The bottom line is this: On Thursday, the NCAA adopted a rule devised by and on behalf of coaches. This rule actively hurts its student-athletes' ability to make educated decisions about their professional futures. It forces players into making an all-or-nothing decision based on no more than a week of information about the trajectory of that future.
The draft process is always imperfect. There's no magic bullet. Bad decisions will be made whether players have 100 days or 100 hours to make those decisions. But the NCAA has a responsibility to its student-athletes, who happen to be the reason the NCAA exists. (And, for that matter, earn multibillion-dollar TV contracts for its marquee basketball competition.) By allowing coaches to enact this rule, the NCAA is abdicating its responsibility to the best and brightest of those student-athletes.
Simply put, this is wrong. In so many ways, it's just plain wrong.