Two to three weeks, max. That's the total time college coaches say underclassmen should have to make up their mind about staying in the NBA draft.
How long do players get now?
Try nearly three months.
College players have from the end of their season until June 21, a week before the NBA draft, to make a decision on staying in the draft. Yes, they have to declare by May 14, but they have another five weeks after that during which they can still withdraw and return to school, as long as they don't sign with an agent (though you know many get advice from one).
The NBA personnel want the time to evaluate the player on an individual basis. They want to see the player either against other players in similar situations at the Chicago pre-draft camp the first week of June or in individual workouts at the NBA teams' practice facilities, under their supervision and against a selected group of players with equal or similar talent.
The impact of the waiting game actually makes it more important than the proposed NBA age limit, especially as coaches like Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson say that limit should be two or three years after high school graduation, since a number of freshmen come to college at 19 or 20 years old after going to prep school for a post-grad year.
We couldn't find anyone who would choose the age limit over shortening the window for how long a player has to make his draft decision. Dragging the process on for months ties up recruiting (a scholarship must be held for the possibly returning player) and delays the psychological preparation of next season's team. Scheduling could be affected, as could television appearances, given the unknown of whether a player or players will be returning to the team.
"We could get all the information in a week for these guys," Sampson said. "You could wait until a week after the Final Four once those teams are done playing and then gather all the information. We could put them on the phone with the GMs, if that were legal, and then see where they stand, and see if they want to stay in the draft or not."
The NBA does offer an advisory committee to do just that, but players still want to go through the process of working out for the teams. The teams want to see the workouts, too, before investing in a player. That doesn't sit well with college coaches.
"For five months, they [NBA scouts] will say the guy can't play, but then they see him in three days and suddenly he can," Sampson said. "Sometimes, it's the reverse. He can play during the season but not in front of them. I've given up trying to understand the NBA logic."
"It's confusing to me," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, who had to go through this process last season when junior guard Delonte West waited until the final days to announce he would stay in the NBA draft. "I'd much rather see a player go three-on-three in his own gym than take him out of that environment and go one-on-one against someone."
Stanford's Trent Johnson agrees with Sampson. Johnson, who wants a two-week decision period, must wait to see what junior guard Chris Hernandez does now that he has declared for the draft without signing with an agent.
"It needs to be shortened," Johnson said. "It really disrupts trying to build your team for the following season. The spring is when your team starts to take shape, and you need leadership. How can you get that if you're not sure if the player is returning?"
Johnson said recruiting also takes a hit. Clearly, teams aren't going to replace a player of similar ilk at this late stage. There's no way a coach can find another top-level player in the spring while waiting for his player to make up his mind. Johnson said it's even harder at a school like Stanford where the pool is so small.
Academics also take a hit. Texas A&M junior Antoine Wright is in Los Angeles working out as he tries to get into the first round before he makes his decision. He's supposedly taking classes from afar (online or independent study), but that's hardly an easy way to stay eligible.
"I'm not sure about how long it should be, but I do know they don't give themselves enough of a chance to be academically eligible," Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie said. "By the time they decide to return, they may have messed up the semester to be eligible again."
Gillispie said all of these players usually think they have a crack at the first round or they wouldn't have declared. But that cuts into the recruiting, not only for a quick fix in the spring but also high school juniors for the following season (if the player considering the draft is a sophomore) since that player conceivably could be around for two more seasons.
"The spring is when you get an individual plan for each kid, and that can be put on hold for a while," Martelli said. "When you go through this [the draft decision process], the players are serving a lot of masters and dealing with a lot of variables. It should be tightened."
Shortening the window isn't a high priority in negotiating the next NBA collective bargaining agreement, but it should be a top issue for the National Association of Basketball Coaches in any conversation with the NBA and NBAPA.
Making the players decide in a shorter amount of time could have as much of an impact on next season as an age limit. If players aren't allowed to string out the process and hold schools hostage for three months (as Sampson said), they might not be so quick to enter the draft.
Most NBA teams can tell you who would be in the first round among the underclassmen, with a few exceptions. First-round jockeying would still occur, but those players who don't have a shot at the first round could save their coach, teammates and school a lot of angst by deciding more quickly.
This would mean that underclassmen who are on the fence wouldn't make it all the way to Chicago in June, but historically, fewer than 10 players in Chicago have retained their amateur status by not signing with an agent.
That could change this spring. A record number of "amateurs" could be invited while they keep their college coaches at bay and weigh the pros and cons of staying in the draft nearly three months after their season has ended.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His column will return the week of April 25.