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Eligibility Rules for Preps Widened

NCAA: High school basketball stars can now declare for NBA draft without losing chance to play in college.


High school basketball players can now declare for the NBA draft and be drafted without giving up their college eligibility, the NCAA board of directors decided Thursday, and in a surprising turnaround, the group determined the rule will be in effect for this year's draft.

That leaves little time for high school players and their legion of "advisors" to sort out the advantages and disadvantages.

This much is clear: It's not a free pass to see where a player stands.

The NCAA earlier was under the impression an NBA team would hold a players' rights for one year.

But NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said that under the league's collective bargaining agreement, a team would hold a players' rights until one year after his college career, and he could not re-declare for the draft.

Still, as long as a player doesn't sign a contract or hire an agent, he would retain his eligibility.

That means a prospect who throws his name in the ring only to see an NBA team take a flier on him late in the second round still could go to college, play several seasons and even become national player of the year. But he couldn't ever become a lottery pick and the team that drafted him would have dibs, at a bargain price. Nor would an undrafted player be able to declare for the draft again.

Until now, high school players lost their college eligibility if they declared for the draft whether they were drafted or not. College players retain their eligibility if they withdraw before the deadline or aren't picked, but lose their eligibility if they are drafted.

"I think it's fair," said Fairfax High Coach Harvey Kitani, the coach of Evan Burns, the McDonald's All-American who has signed with UCLA and is expected to play for the Bruins rather than try the NBA. "It definitely was not right or fair to penalize the high school kid who did the same thing a college kid did. That wouldn't hold for a second in a court of law."

The territory isn't entirely foreign to NBA teams, one general manager pointed out, because they are used to drafting European players who might not immediately come play in North America.

Marty Blake, the NBA director of scouting, said it could even be good strategy for an NBA team to take a raw prospect in the second round and hope he would go to college and develop into a steal of a player.

"But we're only talking about a few high school kids," he said. "Somebody thought a bus was going to deliver 100 high school kids. It hasn't happened."

Though the draft decision is attention-grabbing, Ohio State President William Kirwin, chair of the NCAA board, called the group's endorsement of academic reform measures "most significant."

The board voted unanimously to ask the NCAA executive council to study how to implement rules related to academic performance--the most dramatic of which would bar teams from postseason play if they didn't live up to yet-to-be established standards.

"The penalties we have in mind are quite severe," Kirwin said. "It's probably several years down the road, but I genuinely believe we will not turn back."

In other action, the group approved new criteria for Division I-A membership that will go into effect in 2004, including a requirement that football teams must average at least 15,000 in attendance for home games.

Also approved, as expected, was emergency action allowing incoming football players to participate in voluntary off-season workouts conducted by strength and conditioning coaches--a reaction to safety concerns after last year's rash of football deaths.

In addition, the moratorium on the number of postseason bowl games was lifted, and football teams with 6-6 records will be eligible after the 2002 season, with no decision made about future years.

Sweeping changes in amateurism rules sought by outgoing NCAA President Cedric Dempsey have fallen mostly by the wayside.

A proposal to allow projected high draft picks to take out $20,000 loans was discussed and remains tabled indefinitely.

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