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3 questions after the NCAA’s new basketball rule changes

How are “elite” players defined? What about players who don’t play for Team USA? There’s a lot left unanswered.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Nashville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NCAA has a lot of new rules, but, as usual, not necessarily all the answers.

With a stated goal to “minimize the leverage of harmful outside influences” and “provide student-athletes more freedom and flexibility” after an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption shook the sport last season, the NCAA announced a series of rule changes relating to recruiting, eligibility, and enforcement on Wednesday. While some changes — like those to regulations about hiring agents — could bring positive change for at least some athletes, there were still several key questions raised about how all of this will impact the rest of college basketball.

What did the NCAA change?

The key points are as follows:

  • High school seniors dubbed “elite” by USA Basketball are allowed representation of an agent before July 1 of their senior year, if and when the NBA and NBPA allow high school players to go pro
  • All college players are allowed representation of an agent even if they choose to go back to school afterwards
  • College basketball players who enter the NBA Draft but aren’t selected may return to school as long as they:
  1. Participated in the NBA Draft Combine
  2. Requested an Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation
  3. Notify their athletic director by 5 p.m. the Monday following the draft

In reality, these changes will impact relatively few. The limits on how many “elite” high school players there are and the vetting process for that determination are hazy. College players were already allowed 10 days after the combine to make a draft decision. And this same process would’ve allowed a whopping six players to return to school last season had it been in place.

Our Ricky O’Donnell highlighted his four takeaways here, which detail a few of the obvious flaws in the NCAA’s new system.

There’s more we’re left without answers for, though.

How are “elite” high school basketball players defined?

According to the NCAA:

Pending a decision by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, high school basketball players can be represented by an agent beginning July 1 before their senior year in high school, provided they have been identified as an elite senior prospect by USA Basketball.

The effective date will be decided if/when the NBA and the NBPA permit high school students to enter the draft.

The short answer: we don’t know exactly how the elite group will be defined. Heck, even USA Basketball didn’t know when the changes were announced. According to ESPN’s Jonathon Givony, USA Basketball hasn’t had “substantive conversations at this stage about these changes, nor have they given their approval.” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said USA Basketball was “blindsided” by the NCAA’s decision.

One solution may be including all of the players invited to the USA Basketball minicamps as “elite.” But it seems nobody’s on board with what this means yet.

What about non-American players?

Another major question is what happens to prospective college players born outside of the United States or athletes who choose not to play for Team USA. Is USA Basketball to judge athletes outside its pool?

The consensus top pick in the 2019 draft, R.J. Barrett, is Canadian-born and plays for Canada’s national team. Had he been a bit younger, we’d have no clue if he’s allowed an agent to represent him.

What happens to players who go undrafted, want to come back to school, but there are no scholarships available?

Here’s what the NCAA says:

College basketball players who request an Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation, participate in the NBA combine and aren’t drafted can return to school as long as they notify their athletics director of their intent by 5 p.m. the Monday after the draft.

This change is effective if/when the NBA and NBPA make an expected rule change, which would make undrafted student-athletes who return to college after the draft ineligible for the NBA until the end of the next college basketball season.

Not a whole lot!

We know players can return to school if they wish, and they may enter the draft all over again the following season, but what we don’t know is how teams will have to account for this possibility in recruiting.

Typically, most rosters are set by June at the college level save for some graduate transfers, with 12 scholarships to dole out. But what is a college coach to do? Hold a spot open in case a player isn’t drafted? What if a spot is held open for no reason?

The flip side isn’t good either. What’s a player supposed to do with an open scholarship (almost) solely for them?

Luckily, this rule should only affect a small portion of the talent pool but it still puts the player and coach in an uncomfortable position unless there’s more to this rule.

There’s still a lot to learn about the NCAA’s newest rule changes as well as their unintended consequences. We can see into the future a bit, but unique scenarios will surface, and already, some obvious scenarios are unclear.