A questionable ruling by the National Basketball League means that Ben Madgen will be out of the running for an award he greatly deserves: 2010-11 NBL Rookie of the Year. And it’s all got to do with the Adelaide 36ers.

Madgen has averaged 9.6ppg and 2.8rpg whilst shooting 39.6% from three-point range in 24 games this season. He has scored 17 points or more on 5 occasions, including a 25 point, four rebound, four assist performance on 4 February against the Adelaide 36ers. They sound like the numbers of a key rotation player and certainly above average for an NBL rookie, don’t they? 

By NBL standards, they certainly are the numbers of a potential Rookie of the Year. But Madgen has been ruled out of winning that award. Why? Well, that brings us back to the 36ers…

Madgen, a South Australian native, started out his “NBL career” as a development player with the 36ers in the 2005-06 season. He did not play a game for Adelaide, yet inexplicably that counts as NBL experience in the eyes of the awards committee.

Let’s see how the Oxford Dictionary defines rookie: n. a member of a sports team in their first full season

And that is how the NBA and most sensible sports leagues around the world define the term too. If not for such a definition, we would not be discussing clear NBA ROY candidate Blake Griffin as the award winner this season, after he missed his first season through injury. Nor would we have considered the ultimately unfortunate Greg Oden for the same award last season.

Michael Cowley of the Sydney Morning Herald describes the situation here well:

A ”farcical” ruling is set to not only rob Sydney Kings’ guard Ben Madgen of the NBL’s rookie of the year award, but a financial bonus from the club, too. Madgen was signed as the Kings 11th man before the season, and while that effectively meant his court time would be minimal, his management still asked the club to write into the contract a bonus if he was to win the league’s rookie award. It agreed, and as the season went on the move appeared to be a master stroke for the 26-year-old. He elevated himself up the bench, at times into a starting role with the Kings, and has played 23 games. While not a certainty for the rookie award, Madgen and Melbourne’s Luke Nevill were set to fight it out, until the NBL informed the Kings yesterday he is ineligible because he was a development player with Adelaide in the 2005-06 season. According to the NBL, a rookie is classified as a non-restricted player registered for the first time in the NBL. ”It’s farcical – it’s just not right,” said Kings coach Ian Robilliard. ”We got an email this morning about it, and I wrote back saying … it’s clearly his first season, it’s the first time he’s walked onto an NBL court. They are saying, ‘no it’s against the rules’ … My response was ‘well, change the rules because they are stupid.”’ NBL general manager of operations Chuck Harmison said the rules could not be changed mid-season. ”We are sympathetic to Ben’s case as it is unusual but the wording of the rules is crystal clear so this isn’t a matter of interpretation,” he said.

Obviously it is difficult and unwise to change the definition of an award after the season has started. But it begs the question as to why the definition was changed in the first place? Who decided that it was better to restrict the award to players that had never been “registered” with a team before?

Somewhere along the way, the restriction was changed from the previous definition, which read:

A Rookie player is classified as:
a. A player who has not received court-time in any NBL game; or
b. A player who has received court-time in no more than seven (7) NBL games.
Note: A player loses his Rookie status in his third season if he has received court-time in any number of games in his two previous NBL seasons.

Much more sensible, don’t you think? This is one change which has happened since the restructure process of the NBL/BA that makes no sense the average spectator. 

Now the ROY award looks likely to be awarded to Luke Nevill (formerly of the Melbourne Tigers), a player who no longer plays in the league and who had experience playing in the NBA Development League (as well as the NCAA) before coming to the NBL. Does that seem more logical?

Instead, Madgen will miss out on the opportunity to join the likes of Andrew Gaze, Andrew Vlahov, Sam Mackinnon, John Rillie, Matthew Nielsen, Brad Newley and Joe Ingles to win the NBL Rookie of the Year Award. Does this instead make Madgen a lock for the 2010-11 Most Improved Player Award? After all, he has improved his scoring by 9.6ppg, his rebounds by 2.8rpg and his three point percentage to the tune of 39.6% with comparison to last season…

NBL, change that award definition, quicksmart.