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A simple plan for the NBA draft that benefits players, colleges and the pros

Tribune News Service • Jul 2, 2016 at 11:30 AM

Delusion and lack of patience from one side, and agonizingly slow progress from the other means the NBA draft remains a broken institution despite good intentions and available improvements.

The process of college basketball underclassmen going through the draft has been improved slightly over the years but never enough, and only in the margins. It’s past time for fundamental change, and the bigger sports world is finally in a place to accept it.

It’s time to give cash to college basketball players to stay in school.

Soon, representatives from the college game and NBA will meet to discuss how recent changes to the draft process are working for each side. This was the first year that players could withdraw from the draft even after the NBA combine, and the general feeling from within the college game is that it was better but only incrementally so.

More than 70 players were invited to the combine, and of the 44 college players selected, only the No. 58 and 60 picks were not on the list. Thirty players who kept their name in the draft were not selected.

“You can establish a framework, but people have to figure out how to use it wisely,” said Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “At some point, decisions have to be made.”

Kansas’ Brannen Greene was among those not invited who kept their name in the draft anyway. KU’s Wayne Selden was among those who hired an agent — making the decision to leave college permanent — before hearing feedback from the NBA.

Those are two local examples of how the system will never be perfect, and of how some guys just want or need to leave college. Greene clashed with KU coach Bill Self, and Selden would’ve been behind incoming freshman Josh Jackson.

But there is a relatively simple, very clear and presumably effective way to promote good decisions and prevent bad ones:

Give these guys money in the form of no-interest loans.

“That’s something we’ve had some conversation about,” Haney said.

There are many different ways to improve the process. Self would like the best prospects to be able to enter the NBA out of high school, but those who go to college stay for at least two years. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo would like an NHL model, where college players can return to school after being drafted.

Elements of many plans can be used, but offering no-interest loans is simple, provides many and far-reaching benefits, and can be done without the wait and complication of dealing with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

I first wrote about this five years ago, and since then the general public’s view of amateurism has shifted. In that time we’ve seen the NCAA increasingly unable to police its sports, and the leadership structure approve small stipends for athletes in the name of “full cost of attendance.”

Polls continue to show public resistance to outwardly paying college athletes, but that’s not what this proposal would do.

Offer underclassmen no-interest loans if they return to school. The amounts of the loans should be tied to the prospects’ projected values, and paid back on their rookie contracts, or waived in the unlikely scenario that their draft stock drops.

Already the NCAA allows future pros to take insurance policies to protect themselves from serious injuries. It’s worth noting that these policies are notoriously difficult to collect on, and some agents view them as an outright scam. But the point is, better players get bigger potential payouts, so a system already exists that could be tweaked to guide direct loans.

Offer the best prospects $50,000 or so, and second-round picks $20,000. Adjust the numbers up or down if you’d like. That’s a detail that could be easily set.

Ideally, this could be funded with a rounding error in the $700 million-plus the NCAA gets from TV networks for basketball games. No more than $1 million would likely be lent in a year, and the vast majority of the money would be paid back.

If the NCAA won’t step up, major programs — places like Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, where the vast majority of these decisions are being made — would have no trouble raising the money on their own.

At Kansas, they raised money for an $11.2 million apartment complex for the basketball program without much effort because it was seen as a recruiting advantage. This would be much less money, with a more direct impact on recruiting.

If a college basketball player is intent on jumping to the NBA at the earliest opportunity, no matter his scouting report, then this isn’t going to stop them. Neither will any other reasonable plan.

But it would clear some of the noise surrounding these decisions. Players already have many expenses taken care of — rooms, food, clothes, etc. — so an additional loan could make a big difference. Could be a year of rent or mortgage for their parents.

If nothing else, it would eliminate the most pressing and immediate financial needs for many prospects, and allow more level-headed choices. Without the stress that a relatively small amount of money could’ve squashed, prospects are freer to stay in college, furthering their educations and becoming better players before entering the league.

Adopting a system like this would benefit everyone involved. College basketball is better because more of the best players stay longer. The NBA is better because their scouts get more time to evaluate, their teams get better rookies, and the league gets more marketable players with more college exposure.

For the players themselves, they can be compensated for their talent and value, and are able to make more considered choices about their future.

It’s not a perfect proposal, and it won’t drive everyone to make the most beneficial decisions. But if that’s the standard, we’ll be talking about this until the sun burns out.

The draft process has been improved over the years, but always with administrative fixes and never with anything that directly benefits athletes and deals with some of the most common and pressing factors.

It’s past time for the college game to do everything it can to help the athletes who drive the revenue.

—Sam Mellinger

The Kansas City Star—

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