In the coming months, professional sports leagues will hold their annual drafts. For current student-athletes declaring themselves eligible for professional drafts, their actions in making that declaration may affect their status as amateur athletes. This month’s article discusses the NCAA bylaws governing permissible activities for student-athletes who are contemplating declaring themselves eligible for the draft and those who have already made such a declaration.

Generally, an individual loses his or her amateur status in a particular sport when the individual asks to be placed on the draft list of a professional league in that sport. The NCAA deems the moment of forfeiture of amateur status as the moment a student-athlete manifests an intent to become professional. Thus if a student-athlete drafts a letter asking to be placed on a draft list, his or her amateur status has been forfeited the moment he or she submits that request (e.g., mails or faxes).

NCAA bylaws allow an exception for football and basketball student-athletes. Students in these sports can enter a professional league’s draft once during their collegiate career without jeopardizing their eligibility, provided they are not drafted. Even if they are not drafted, basketball student-athletes are required to declare their intent to resume intercollegiate participation in writing to the director of athletics within 30 days following the draft. In the case of undrafted football student-athletes, they have 72 hours following the draft to declare such intent. A student-athlete who does not make such a declaration in the time provided will forfeit any remaining intercollegiate eligibility.

Market Value Determination & Declaring for the Draft

Scenario #1: A student-athlete is considering entering a professional League draft. In an attempt to ascertain when he might get drafted, he contacts the league and asks for a determination of the current market value for a player of his skill and experience. After receiving a favorable response, the student-athlete declares himself eligible for the upcoming draft.

A: It is permissible for an enrolled student-athlete in any sport to ask a professional sports organization about his market value without affecting his or her amateur status. But as mentioned above, asking to be placed on a professional draft list ends that student-athlete’s amateur status, making the individual ineligible for intercollegiate competition. Intercollegiate eligibility is permanently relinquished even if:

1. The individual asks that his or her name be withdrawn from the list prior to the actual draft;
2. The individual’s name remains on the list but he or she is not drafted (unless the student meets either the basketball or football exception); or
3. The individual is drafted but does not sign an agreement with a professional team.

Negotiating with Professional Teams

Scenario #2: Walt Smith, a junior in college, has decided to enter the NBA draft. Draft experts have determined that he would likely be the first player chosen. The owners of the first pick in the upcoming draft have indicated that they are going to draft Walt and would like to begin discussing possible contract terms. Walt’s mother enters into contract negotiations with the team.

A: A student-athlete, his or her legal guardians or institution’s professional sports counseling panel may enter into negotiations with a professional sports organization without jeopardizing the student-athlete’s amateur status.

Agreements with Agents

Scenario #3: A football student-athlete is entering his final season of eligibility. Prior to the team’s first game, the student-athlete is approached by an agent. The student-athlete tells the agent that he cannot sign a contract with him during the season, but promises to sign a contract with him after the team’s final game.

A: A student-athlete is ineligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if he or she has ever agreed (either orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. This is true even if the agreement is for representation after the student-athlete has completed his or her eligibility in that sport. *Note: Eligibility in this case is forfeited even if the contract is not binding on either party or enforceable for any reason. Simply demonstrating the intent to enter an agreement is sufficient to forfeit eligibility.

Student-Athletes Drafted by Professional Teams

While most student-athletes lose intercollegiate eligibility the moment they enter a professional league’s draft, student-athletes participating in sports such as baseball and hockey may be drafted by a team without having declared his intention to enter that draft. Because they never expressed intent to enter the draft, student-athletes in those sports would not forfeit their intercollegiate eligibility by being drafted. Additionally, a student-athlete who is a professional athlete in one sport may compete as an amateur for an institution in a different sport. However, the student-athlete cannot receive institutional financial assistance in the second sport unless the student-athlete:

1. Is no longer involved in professional athletics;
2. Is not receiving any remuneration from professional sports organization; and
3. Has no active contractual relationship with any professional athletics team. However, an individual may remain bound by an option clause in a professional sports contract that requires assignment to a particular team if the student-athlete’s professional career is resumed.

This article is only a general overview of those rules and does not encompass every rule applicable to this topic. For specific questions regarding these rules, please contact The Ohio State University Athletics Compliance Office at (614) 292-2681.