In less than a month, University of Kentucky junior forward Patrick Patterson is expected to receive his communications degree. Not run out of eligibility. Receive a degree. In three years.

A past member of the Southeastern Conference's Good Works Team -- which recognizes athletes who give back to their community -- Patterson not is only an All-SEC performer on the court, but a wonderful role model off it.

And given the questionable rep that has overtaken much of college basketball the past few seasons before last week's remarkable NCAA tourney final between choir boys Duke and Butler, you'd think the NCAA would be doing everything possible to keep quality young men like Patterson around as long as possible.

But if Patterson does the expected over the next 10 days and tests the NBA draft waters for the second year in a row, his college eligibility is over. Fini. Kaput.

Despite an earlier release from the university that Patterson was joining four Kentucky freshmen in declaring for the NBA draft, he has not turned in the paperwork to make that official.

All those UK one-and-doners -- John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, etc. -- can withdraw their names any time between now and May 8 and return to school with no hard feelings. Never mind that there's a higher likelihood of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson taking a vacation together than the Cat-Nappers becoming sophomores. By NCAA rules they could return if they never hired an agent.

Not so for Patterson. If he submits his paperwork again, his college eligibility is up, even if he changes his mind.

And you wonder why the NCAA often appears to be the most hypocritical organization on the face of the earth.

This isn't about Patterson or Kentucky. Whether he stays or goes, both parties will be just fine. currently projects Patterson as the eighth overall pick in the June draft. That's worth around $2 million per year for three years.

Moreover, with or without his star forward, UK coach John Calipari figures to land another outstanding recruiting class, which should keep the Wildcats among the nation's top 15 or 20 teams, down only slightly from this year's Elite Eight squad.

But that doesn't change the fact that any underclassman who hasn't accepted money or gifts from agents or professional teams should be allowed to stay in school until his four years of eligibility are up.

Does a university allow its non-athlete students to attend job fairs only once, demanding that they leave school if they inquire about career employment opportunities after both their sophomore and junior years?

No way. So why this? These players aren't necessarily turning pro. They're trying to find out if they're ready to turn pro. These are million-dollar decisions these athletes are making. If they need more than one year to decide, so be it.

And, please, no talk about how it messes up recruiting, hinders academic performance or makes life difficult for NBA front offices.

First of all, the academic rules take care of themselves. If Patterson failed his spring classes while worrying about the draft, he would be ineligible for different reasons.

As for recruiting, the start of the monthlong spring signing period begins Wednesday. The deadline for withdrawing from the draft is May 8. If a high school star were really concerned about a player such as Patterson remaining in school, he could wait until the draft withdrawal date to sign.

And the NBA draft isn't until late June. If a pro franchise can't adjust its draft strategy in six weeks, it deserves whatever foul fate befalls it.

One other thing. The NCAA's May 8 deadline for withdrawal comes more than a week before the NBA's pre-draft camp to evaluate talent. The NBA should move up the camp to allow players to showcase themselves before NBA talent evaluators before deciding whether or not to return to school.

You could argue that these situations are increasingly rare. You probably have no more than four or five in any given year. Patterson's appears to be the only such situation this spring.

But the principle is more important than the performer. At least it should be.

Over the past weekend Patterson said he was "half in and half out," concerning the draft.

If only the NCAA could be at least half right on this issue, instead of all wrong.

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