Photo: Mike Lawrie (Getty)

The NCAA announced a number of changes to existing player eligibility rules this past week. Mostly they are junk that will mean nothing to the kinds of players who are most screwed and exploited by the NCAA’s brand of forced amateurism. Hilariously, though the changes have to do with the NCAA’s handling of the NBA Draft, and though they require the input and participation of USA Basketball, the announcement of the changes reportedly caught both the NBA and USAB totally by surprise:

The NBA, USA Basketball and NCAA did meet and discuss these prospective changes, but the NBA and USA Basketball never believed they had come to a consensus with the NCAA on how they would move forward together on the issues, sources said.

A consensus would matter because the changes announced by the NCAA, we are meant to believe, would greatly impact the flow of elite-level basketball prospects through the American basketball pipeline. The changes ostensibly remove the risk from the process of declaring for the NBA Draft, and make seeking pre-draft representation from a player agent allowable without sacrificing eligibility. Changes that meaningfully addressed themselves to the pressures facing young basketball prospects could conceivably radically change the recruiting process for high schoolers and the pre-draft process for draft-eligible players.

But these new changes are almost entirely window dressing. As pointed out by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, the new rule that will allow undrafted players to return to school would’ve impacted the eligibility of a whopping five players in 2018. No more than 60 players in the world are drafted by NBA teams each year; incredibly few young basketball players are realistically on the bubble, and those that are are not at all likely to see their draft prospects improve following another year of college basketball. Draft eligible players mostly know where they stand by draft night, so a player who goes to the draft combine and stays in the process long enough to go undrafted generally has his mind fully set on becoming a professional. While we’re here, all five of the players whose eligibility was nuked this year despite going undrafted—Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier, Malik Newman, Trevon Duval, and Brandon McCoy—are in training camp with NBA teams, and three of them have already landed two-way contracts in the NBA.

The rule that allows players to hire agents is also muddied up and conditional enough to be of little use. It will apparently fall to the NCAA to certify agents and maintain a list of agents with whom players may sign while maintaining their eligibility. And the player-agent relationship can only last during the period of time when the player is testing draft waters. But here’s the really confusing part: only “elite” level prospects will be allowed to hire player agents before they join up with an NCAA program—in anticipation of the NBA changing its one-and-done rule—and the designation of who is “elite” will be done by USA Basketball. This is apparently news to USA Basketball:

USA Basketball doesn’t have the infrastructure or interest in accepting the role of evaluating the nation’s top prospects for selecting a yet-to-be-determined number of players who will annually be allowed to sign with agents at the end of their junior years, sources told ESPN.

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This is the NCAA telling blue-chip high school kids that in order to hire professional representation to help them navigate the incredibly complex and fraught system of scumbag adults orbiting the world of recruiting without losing their eligibility to play in the only prominent stateside route to the NBA, they will need to be designated “elite” by a third basketball organization that lacks the infrastructure for the job and wants absolutely no part of it.

These and other changes—the NCAA has set itself up to maintain a firmer hold on the calendar of showcase events and recruiting visits, to no clear benefit—are presented as a way for the NCAA to root corruption and exploitation out of its system. Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that the central business of the NCAA is enforcing amateurism on young adults in order to profit enormously off of their athletic abilities, it turns out most of what the NCAA has done here is call for unwanted and complex bureaucratic processes to replace what was being handled more efficiently by, frankly, a black market.

USA Basketball is now on the hook to scout and rank high school prospects, despite wanting no part of the gig. And the NCAA is now supposed to be trusted to evaluate and certify an unknown number of player agents. And since most of the under-the-table pay-to-play stuff is happening with the very best of the best, none of this shit will matter until the NBA abandons its one-and-done rule, which the league and the NBA Players Association don’t apparently plan to do until the 2022 draft, at the earliest.

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But, hey, at least the NCAA pulled some positive press out of the announcements.