On Next Star eligibility, and should the NBL's Collective Bargaining Agreement be made public?

The recent NBL offseason saw a new crop of Next Stars being announced, which included high-profile prospects like R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball. One Next Star signing, Didi Louzada, raised a few eyebrows, simply because he was already drafted to an NBA team. The elevator pitch for the Next Stars program since inception, had consistently been its value as an alternative pathway to the NBA, and CEO Jeremy Loeliger had relayed the same messaging in a recent interview.

“So I think, even if they lower the age [for the NBA draft], there’s still plenty of talent to go around, who won’t necessarily be ready to go straight from high school to the NBA, that the Next Stars program can still stand on its own two feet as a very viable pathway for talent to the NBA draft."

It was mentioned in the same release, that a "recent change" to the NBL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allowed this signing to be realised. The Louzada signing happened in early July, and the Australian Basketball Players' Association (ABPA) confirmed that the latest NBL CBA was signed off on 10 May 2019.

When reached for comment, the NBL confirmed that the Next Stars draft-and-stash option is limited only to athletes who were drafted in the latest/most recent NBA draft. This means undrafted players, and players who were drafted in earlier drafts are not eligible for Next Stars draft-and-stash.

To give an example: someone who was drafted in 2018 or earlier (or went undrafted), cannot be a Next Star in 2019/20 NBL season.

Should the option have been announced earlier? It would have been a good idea. Did it absolutely need to be known to the masses? It's not compulsory, but sending the message earlier would have allowed for the possibilities to be understood over a longer period of time, rather than the abrupt announcement of a lightning quick pivot.

This brings us to the topic at hand: is there a need for the CBA to be publicly accessible?

The CBA is what it sounds like. It is an agreement between an organisation and the union --in this case, the NBL and the ABPA-- that outlines terms and conditions of employment. Liam Santamaria recently wrote an easy-to-understand guide around the system, but that's not quite the same as reading the original verbiage in its entirety, which might have revealed this potential wrinkle (and perhaps others) on the Next Stars program.

In comparison, the NBA's CBA has been a longstanding subject of study, to the point of a separate FAQ being written by Larry Coon, and salary cap analysis being included as a integral component of the Sports Business Classroom, an annual event held for aspiring sports business professionals, especially in basketball.

The NBA's efforts on transparency is by no means an outlier. The Spanish ACB also has their CBA publicly available, and in Australia, the AFL's CBA is also readily accessible.

It would make sense for the NBL CBA --or at least the parts pertaining to the Next Stars program-- to be opened up for access. If nothing else, it would clear up potential questions on eligibility and if other previously unknown clauses could change the market on eligible Next Stars.

The ABPA confirmed it could not share the current CBA, citing "content that is commercial in confidence and is a legally-binding agreement between the players and the NBL" as the reason, and requested we contact the NBL directly. Player salaries were also confidential, "as per individual playing contracts".

The NBL did not share details on CBA clauses pertaining to the Next Stars program. The Pick and Roll also asked the NBL for insight on why the CBA bound by a confidentiality agreement - the league had no comment to share.

It's unclear how much difference there is from the 2016 NBL CBA --which was originally publicly available via the ABPA website, but has since been removed-- to the current version. It feels like there is a need for better transparency, which would engender better trust and engagement within the NBL community.

More than just the on-court product, basketball fans these days display a keen interest in everything outside of the actual basketball games. It ranges from learning about our athletes off the court in perspective pieces -- a good example being Joe and Renae Ingles' story about parenthood and ASD -- to scouring the offseason market and understanding the machinations of the salary cap. Opening the CBA up can only result in better educated fans, and ones who can in turn create their own discussions and speculate on the possibilities, within the constraints of the CBA.

"... community journalism, user-generated content, what I would generally put under the banner of watercooler talk, is incredibly important – it’s the lifeblood of any sporting league," explained Loeliger, stressing the importance of fan opinion for the NBL during an earlier interview. "Public opinion informs a huge amount of what it is we do on a day-to-day basis and we always said, since taking over this business that the decisions we make are intended to put the fan first. This is not just a sporting product, this is an entertainment product, and so the opinion of the consumer is of fundamental importance."

Given the NBL's stance on keeping the league a fan-centric entertainment product, having more information can only better that cause. Well-informed public opinions, armed with the right knowledge, benefits the NBL fan community, improves quality of discussion, and makes the league better as a product.