New NCAA Rule Permits NBA Teams to Pay for Underclassmen Workouts

New NCAA Rule Permits NBA Teams to Pay for Underclassmen Workouts
Apr 07, 2008, 04:18 pm
The NCAA has made a small, but important change to their eligibility rules in regards to NBA teams paying the expenses of underclassmen student-athletes who are “testing the waters” for private workouts. The rule once stated that “In order to be able to participate in the tryout, you must pay for all expenses to attend the tryout (as they are incurred) on your own. It is not permissible for the NBA team to initially pay for the expenses for you with the condition that you would repay the NBA team after the tryout.”

This caused a situation where NCAA underclassmen that were not a lock for the first round and needed to get feedback from NBA teams to clarify their draft status were often limited by their own financial restraints, as traveling around the country is a very costly process when all the expenses needed to be covered by a private individual with no income.

On paper, this clearly looked like a rule that would help discourage NBA underclassmen prospects from declaring for the draft, which is exactly what their schools would prefer, considering how much they would lose if their star players all left for the NBA. We discussed the hypocrisy of the situation in 2006 and 2007 in an article entitled A Crash Course in Testing the Waters.

Depending on who you ask, this may have backfired on the NCAA, as some underclassmen just went ahead and hired agents from the get-go, as they were too determined by their professional aspirations to be discouraged by these rules—which was the exact opposite reaction that many had hoped for. We can probably count on one hand the number of NCAA players from the past few years that looked like first round picks and actually decided to stay in school, or went back after testing the waters.

Clearly a change was in order, and to the NCAA’s credit, they recognized this and indeed decided to go ahead and rectify the situation.

In a memo issued on March 26th of this year, addressed to underclassmen considering testing the waters, the NCAA stated that “You may tryout with an NBA team during the academic year if you are enrolled full-time as long as you do not miss class. You may receive actual and necessary expenses from the NBA team in conjunction with one 48-hour tryout per team. The 48-hour tryout period begins when you arrive at the tryout location. At the completion of the 48-hour period you must depart the location of the tryout immediately in order to receive transportation expenses.”

NBA teams we spoke with seemed pleased about the rule change. There seems to be no question that they will spare no expense to do as thorough an evaluation of the draft class as humanly possible, which means they will have no problem footing the bill. Not everyone was familiar with the memo, though, which is one of the reasons we decided to publish this article.

What does that mean for the NBA draft process? For one, we should see a flood of underclassmen entering their name, particularly juniors, who clearly have nothing to lose. At worst they will benefit from attending a few private workouts, receiving professional feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, get put up in a nice hotel, and get familiarized with the process they will go through in the future when they are actually ready to play in the NBA.

They must keep in mind that no private workouts can be held until the conclusion of the NBA pre-draft camp, which leaves under two weeks until the deadline to pullout of the draft, June 16th. Also, since underclassmen are only allowed to “test the waters” once, freshman and sophomores need to be very careful about wasting their lone opportunity if they are not seriously considered first round draft picks.

An NBA General Manager put it bluntly via email: “More players will test. More players will pull out. It will cost more.”

NBA teams will need to sift through the underclassmen list and figure out who they need to seriously evaluate, and who is in the draft just for the heck of it. Since there are only so many days in the calendar to conduct workouts (a little over three weeks), they need to be selective about who they decide to invite in order to not “waste their time.”

Because of the limited amount of spots available these days, some NCAA seniors might find it a little difficult to get as many workouts with NBA teams as they may have hoped, which makes it more important to participate and play well at Portsmouth and the Orlando pre-draft camp. If given an opportunity to evaluate a senior that a team has seen dozens of times or an underclassmen that they aren’t as familiar with (maybe because they weren’t expecting him to be enter his name in the draft), many teams will often choose to invite the underclassman.

The fact that the NBA now allows teams to have six players on the court at once, instead of four like in past years, helps with this situation.

As one NBA executive told us via email “it’s going to be a busy June watching players with this and new 6 players per workout.”

It will be interesting to see how this affects the NBA pre-draft camp as well. Underclassmen who could not afford to travel around the country working out for teams had the option of being seen by all 30 NBA teams at once at the pre-draft camp. Now that players have more options, the NBA will surely be hoping that this doesn't cause even more players to decline attending their camp, in fear of hurting their stock. It’s becoming more and more rare for 1st round picks to play in Orlando these days—last year only three participants (Daequan Cook, Jared Dudley, Aaron Brooks) went in the first round, while the previous year saw just two (Jordan Farmar and Renaldo Balkman).

Players who decide to take advantage of this new rule need to keep in mind that the NCAA is still very strict about who can arrange for these workouts and who can’t. The same memo states that “it would not be permissible for a student-athlete's institutional coach to organize and be present during a professional tryout that occurs on or off campus.” It also clearly states that agents are not allowed to “arrange a private workout/tryout with an NBA team.” Their definition of what an agent is can be fairly confusing: “An individual would be considered an ‘agent’ if the individual markets your basketball skills to any NBA team or other professional teams (e.g., contact NBA teams to discuss your skills, set up tryouts with NBA teams). “

Their advice to NCAA student athletes is to “be careful who you associate with during this process. Do it all yourself or work through your head coach. You may receive the assistance of your family members, provided they are not working with any individual who is marketing your athletics ability (e.g., contacting NBA teams, setting up tryouts with NBA teams).”

Last year, 58 NCAA underclassmen entered the NBA draft, and 26 ended up pulling their name out at the deadline. What will those numbers look like this time around? We’ll have to wait and see…

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