Transitioning to the NBA: Advocating on Behalf of Student-Athletes for NBA & NCAA Rule Changes

Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, Volume 3, Number 1 (2012)

42 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2011 Last revised: 27 Mar 2012

See all articles by Warren K. Zola

Warren K. Zola

Boston College - Carroll School of Management

Date Written: November 29, 2011


The manner in which college athletes enter the professional market of basketball has significantly deteriorated during the past several decades. The transition from college to the NBA has become more fraught with challenges and misinformation than ever before, a fact likely to lead to a wide range of mistakes by countless student-athletes trying to evaluate whether and when to enter professional basketball.

Highlighting a particular area where student-athletes’ interests are marginalized, this Article calls attention to the challenges that student-athletes in the sport of men’s college basketball face when trying to make a fully informed decision as they evaluate whether or not to enter the NBA draft and forgo remaining college eligibility. Unfortunately this difficult decision period is not unique to men’s basketball, but highlights a broader trend showing that colleges, conferences and the NCAA have done shockingly little to provide guidance and counsel to student-athletes across the country who are navigating the transition from college to the professional leagues. This Article will address both how we developed the current legal rules governing this environment by reviewing the history of the NBA draft and the NCAA’s role in overseeing college athletes and its definition of amateurism. With this recent trend in mind, this Article will then turn its attention to a recent NCAA rule change that unambiguously illustrates the fact that the best interests of the student-athlete are marginalized, if not ignored, in the process of making the leap from college to the NBA. Finally, to foster dialogue, solutions will be proposed on how to address the hardships college student-athletes face during this transition period.

Among the most meaningful recommendations are: 1. The NBA should adopt draft eligibility rules that declare high school graduates are automatically draft eligible and need not petition or declare their intention for the draft. If a player decides to attend college, NBA rules should require that the player not be draft eligible for two years - after a player’s sophomore year of college. 2. NCAA and NBA rules should permit and encourage potential players to hire an “advisor” to assist during this challenging period. 3. The NCAA and NBA should expand and shift the number of days during which student-athletes may explore their potential as an NBA player while maintaining their college eligibility. 4. The creation of a true “NBA Combine” - similar to the NFL Combine - within the time frame the NCAA permits tryouts that enable all underclassmen to compete and perform in front of NBA personnel. 5. Colleges and universities across the country should invest in Professional Sports Counseling Panels (“PSCPs”) so that student-athletes can get unbiased guidance during this critical period of their lives. 6. The NBA and the NCAA could jointly revise the rules relative to the NBA draft, whereby any student-athlete who declares himself eligible has the ability, if not selected in the first round of the NBA draft and thus guaranteeing himself a contract under the latest CBA, to return to college. 7. Encourage student-athletes to graduate by offering financial incentives at the NBA level for those with additional years in college.

Keywords: NBA, NCAA, Draft, MLB, NFL, NHL

Suggested Citation

Zola, Warren K., Transitioning to the NBA: Advocating on Behalf of Student-Athletes for NBA & NCAA Rule Changes (November 29, 2011). Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, Volume 3, Number 1 (2012). Available at SSRN:

Warren K. Zola (Contact Author)

Boston College - Carroll School of Management ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

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