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Effects of the NBA Lockout on NCAA Players and the NBA Draft

On July 1, 2011, NBA owners locked out NBA players.  The lockout was the result of the parties’ inability to reach a new collective bargaining agreement prior to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement most recently reached between them.  The parties continued negotiating until November 7, 2011.  On that date, the players’ collective bargaining entity, the NBPA, disclaimed its interest as a union.  This move meant that if players want to see the basketball court again, they will have to pursue remedies in the court of law.

Given that the lockout began less than ten days after the 2011 NBA Draft, did the lockout effect college players’ decision to enter the draft?

The NBA allows those interested in being drafted by a team to declare for the draft.  Players without any college eligibility remaining are automatically eligible for the draft.  Those with college eligibility remaining, may declare early for the draft.  However, a college player’s declaration for the draft in and of itself does not jeopardize his future eligibility should he decide to return to college and continue competing at the NCAA level.  The NCAA sets a deadline which players can withdraw their declaration for the draft and still maintain their NCAA eligibility.  However, in order to maintain this eligibility, the player could not have hired an agent to assist him with the draft process.  The hiring of an agent immediately forfeits the player’s NCAA eligibility.

A brief review of the players drafted in the top-10 of the 2011 NBA Draft, along with some historical data related to early withdrawals demonstrates interesting trends related to the draft process and college players’ draft decisions.

In 2011, players had until May 8, 2011 to withdraw from the draft.  This was nearly six-weeks before the date of the 2011 NBA Draft.  News of the NBA and NBPA’s inability to reach a new collective bargaining agreement had been circulating for some time.  The NBA ultimately locked out its players less than two-months after the date upon which college players could withdraw from the draft.

The 2011 NBA Draft was unusual in the sense of the number of players drafted in the top-10 who did not play NCAA Division-I basketball, but rather, came to the NBA by way of playing for teams overseas.  Four of the players drafted in the top-10 in 2011 came from overseas teams.  In contrast, in 2010, no players from foreign teams were drafted in the first ten spots.  In fact, the first foreign-based player was not drafted in 2010 until the Chicago Bulls drafted Kevin Seraphin in the number 17 spot.

As noted above, college players can withdraw their declaration for the draft yet maintain their eligibility.  Arguably, this allows players to test the draft waters to determine whether making the leap to the NBA would be more beneficial than remaining in college.  However, in years when a labor dispute is imminent, it also allows for them to declare early, see if the labor dispute will be settled before the draft, and if not, withdraw their declaration six weeks before the draft then subsequently return to college.

Tracking draft withdrawal data for the five years leading to the 2011 Draft and the 1998 Draft (the year of the last NBA lockout) demonstrates that the possibility of a labor dispute between the NBA and NBPA arguably does not sway a college player’s decision to go pro.

Year Total # of NCAA Early Declarants # of NCAA Player Withdrawals Percentage of Withdrawals
1998 30 4 13.30%
2007 58 26 44.83%
2008 70 31 44.29%
2009 94 55 58.51%
2010 80 29 36.25%
2011 69 25 36.23%

It appears that the trend of declaring early and then withdrawing hit a peak after the 1998 NBA lockout.  Interestingly, the highest percentage of withdrawals came in the 2009 NBA Draft.  The NBA and NBPA assert that they have been attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement for some two years.  Thus, it is possible that word of this may have affected some college players’ decisions in 2009.  However, that seems fairly unlikely given the length of time between the 2009 NBA Draft and the current lockout.

However, the fact that the NBA and NBPA have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for two years arguably explains the consistent percentage of withdrawals in 2010 and 2011, with approximately 36 percent of college players who declared early deciding to return to college.

If the NBA lockout is resolved in time for the 2012 NBA Draft, it will be interesting to see if the percentage of withdrawals increases or decreases from 2010 and 2011.



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