How Long Should College Stars Wait Before Declaring for the NBA Draft?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterAugust 31, 2012

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 21:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics poses for a portrait during the 2012 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 21, 2012 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

I'm going to get straight to the point on this. Get your money, college star. Get your money.

There aren't many compelling reasons for prospective NBA stars to stay in college. Despite the oft-repeated notion that players can better develop with fewer games against worse competition, there isn't evidence to suggest that this helps. 

Often, the "proof" for why players should have stayed in school is anecdotal. When an NBA star fails to live up to expectations, you'll hear pundits like Steve Kerr school-marm on about how much better the athlete would have been with a college education.

Deadspin does an admirable job skewering Kerr, here: 

Arguing about postseason success for an individual player of a team game is, put simply, ridiculous. Some of those straight-to-pro guys have collected a few MVP awards, too. Or is it specifically that going a few rounds in the NCAA tournament teaches you how to win multiple pro playoff series? Fine. So if Kobe had experienced the magic of March Madness, he'd have six NBA rings instead of a mere five?

There haven't been many investigations on the topic of whether players benefit from staying in school, but the evidence we do have suggests they should leave.

This Harvard study by Michael McCann shows a strong correlation between less college and better pro success. A second study demonstrates that players who stayed longer at the college level also tended to get arrested more often, according to Tommy Craggs of The New York Times

Yes, there is the occasional Tim Duncan, a superstar who emerges after four solid NCAA seasons. But for every Tim Duncan, there's a Mateen Cleaves. And a Juan Dixon. And hey, remember how good Christian Laettner seemed at the college level? 

So, if there's no overwhelming evidence to suggest that players develop better with having more college experience, then how are they worse off by staying?

Well, most importantly, they lose substantial sums of money. Ohio State alum Jared Sullinger and Baylor alum Perry Jones—both chosen out of the lottery last season—are object lessons in how staying can hurt a bank account.

Both were assured of lottery status back in 2011. Perhaps due to the NBA lockout, they elected to go for another try at an NCAA title.

Sullinger and Jones suffered injury issues in and after that season, severely depressing their draft stocks. In falling from a possible No. 2 pick to an actual No. 28 pick, Jones may have lost himself $11 million over the course of his rookie contract.

Jones and Sullinger weren't the only examples of why players should leave. Harrison Barnes could have been last year's No. 1 selection. Instead, he waited, and a bad March Madness showing depressed his status down to pick No. 7. 

We may not know whether "leaving early" helps a player's NBA's development, but we certainly know this: Not leaving early often loses an athlete money in the short term.