Can Undrafted Basketball Players Return To College?

Basketball players always had the choice to return to college but were previously limited by NCAA policies that seemed almost penal in nature. They required athletes to announce their intent to return to college prior to the draft being announced. But because of recent policy changes, this has changed.

Basketball players can return to college after the draft is announced, provided they meet specific criteria outlined by the NCAA. To be eligible for this option, athletes must be undrafted and have participated in the NBA combine, among other requirements. 

This sweeping set of NCAA policy changes overturned several rules regarding basketball players and higher education, including policies covering campus visits, agent representation, and more. The changes are intended to expand higher education options and degree opportunities. We’ll discuss all of the changes and requirements in detail, so read on.

Requirements For Undrafted Basketball Players To Return To College

Now more than ever before, undrafted basketball players have more options about whether they want to pursue a pro sports career or a higher education. Undrafted basketball players can now return to college thanks to a series of NCAA policy and rules changes. 

Under these changes, NCAA players can return to school if they are undrafted and meet three other conditions:

  • Players must have participated in the NBA combine
  • Players must request an Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation
  • Players must notify their athletics director by 5:00 PM the Monday after the draft

The new policies represent a stark break from the previous rules, which stated that student-athletes who wanted to be able to go back to college had to abstain from the draft before it even started.

The changes were originally proposed in 2018, spurred largely by a federal case investigating the fraud, bribery, and general corruption that was apparent in college basketball recruitment.

Keep in mind, undrafted athletes who return to college cannot attempt to rejoin the NBA process until the end of the next college season.

About Requirements For Returning, Undrafted Players

As stated earlier, there are four primary requirements for basketball student-athletes to return to college. The most important of these is, of course, the player being undrafted. 

Though still somewhat limiting, these changes provide more freedom and flexibility for student-athletes to control their future. Combined with additional college-related NCAA policy changes, undrafted players have ample opportunity to pursue a degree and return to higher education.

Below, we break down the other three conditions in more detail.

Players Must Have Participated in the NBA Combine

The NBA combine is an invitation-only, multi-day showcase held in May for prospective draft candidates. Players undergo medical and athletic tests, perform shooting and five-on-five drills, and meet and interview with NBA coaches, general managers, and scouts.

Prior to the combine, an NBA G League Elite Camp is held. This three-day event similarly showcases NBA draft hopefuls and promising G League prospects. After the event, a limited number of participants may also be invited to the NBA combine in addition to the original invitees.

Historically, less than 100 student-athletes have been invited to the Elite Camp and combine, respectively. The NBA G League Elite Camp and combine are typically held in May. The official NBA Draft is announced roughly a month later.

Evaluation of Player’s Skill for Draft Prospects

The Undergraduate Advisory Committee (UAC) is established annually in consultation with the NCAA with the purpose of providing college underclassmen with an independent evaluation of their NBA draft prospects.

Evaluations must be requested by current students and are considered a neutral response to requests for information. They are not intended to encourage students to leave or stay in school.

All UAC evaluations are confidential and are not made public. Evaluations outline the player’s most likely draft range and a vote breakdown. 

Interestingly, the majority of student-athletes who request UAC evaluations return to college. According to data from 2018, only 31% of students who underwent evaluations decided to enter the draft (54 players out of 176).

Evaluations are based on a number of factors and are highly accurate. Since 2016, 91% of players whose evaluations indicated they would be selected for the draft were picked within the First Round; 100% of players whose evaluations indicated they would not be selected but who remained in the NBA Draft went unpicked.

Players interested in requesting an evaluation and potentially staying in or returning to college should be aware of the UAC application deadline, which typically falls in April.

Notification of the Athletics Director

Instead of notifying their athletics director of their intent to withdraw before the draft, athletes can now wait to confirm they weren’t picked for the draft before proving this notification. However, they should take note of the tight timeline.

Using 2019 as an example, the NBA Draft was announced on June 20, a Thursday. Since players must notify their athletics director by 5:00 PM the Monday after the draft, that left players with just three or four days to decide if they wanted to return to college.

To avoid time-related concerns, student-athletes considering returning to college should carefully think about this decision far in advance of the draft.

Even if players are confident in their draft position or unsure about returning to college, requesting a UAC evaluation is a prudent step that can help students make a more informed choice about their future. 

Applicants receive initial feedback roughly two months before the draft and updated feedback roughly one month before the draft. This gives players ample time to consider both their draft and college eligibility and begin the process of looking into requirements and logistics for either or both.

This way, undrafted student-athletes will be able to notify their athletics directors of their intent to return to college as soon as possible.

College-Related NCAA Policy Changes

Along with allowing undrafted basketball players to return to college, the NCAA implemented several other policy changes that related to higher education.

The new changes to NCAA policy include:

  • Draft Flexibility – As stated earlier, undrafted college basketball players who join in the NBA combine and request an Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation are allowed to return to school after notifying their athletics director of their intent.
  • Increased College Visitations – Student-athletes are now allowed more college-funded campus visits (i.e., “official visits”); after high school, they’re now allowed five visits.
  • Increased Agent Representation – Both high school and college student-athletes are able to have agents now. Only seniors in high school who have been identified as elite talent can have an agent, but college players must request an evaluation from the NBA before they can sign on with an agent.
  • Required Evaluations – Now, students must request an NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation prior to withdrawing from the NBA combine.
  • Degree Completion Assistance – Division I schools will provide degree completion assistance for players who return within 10 years; to be eligible, athletes must have initially attended for two years and meet admissions and financial aid requirements.
  • Degree Completion Funding – The NCAA will now provide some extra funding for schools who are not able to provide assistance to their players who are finishing their degrees.

The NCAA stated that these changes are intended to provide student-athletes with more freedom and flexibility to choose between going pro or pursuing a college education.

Policy changes were announced at the same time but had a staggered implementation. The changes regarding increased agent representation for college players and required evaluations were effective immediately.

Changes regarding increased college visitations were effective August 2018, but degree completion assistance didn’t take effect until a year later in August 2019.

Changes for high school athletes are still pending the NBA and NBPA’s official permit to allow high school students in the draft.

A full list of the policy and rules changes announced in 2018 and their dates of effectiveness can be found here.

If you liked this post, be sure to check “What Are Elite Basketball Camps?” & “Can Basketball Increase Height After 21?“.


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