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Post Stop us before we draft again

Thursday April 10, 2008

The topic of the NBA age limit has come up again, and it continues to puzzle me why the league would want to restrain itself. I don’t know if age limits have really been tested in court. Maurice Clarett was supposed to be the test case for the NFL, and that challenge, um, kind of fizzled out. But let’s say they’re fine and that it’s the NBA’s right to set whatever age limit they want. Why would they?

Fortunately Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has put his thoughts down to give us the first-hand perspective of an NBA owner. He favors an age limit of 22, citing concerns over the maturity of younger players. His concens make sense, but they still come off as "please protect us from ourselves."

Why have NBA teams continued to draft high school players or, lately, one-and-dones? There are only two reasons that make any sense: 1) they are better prospects than older alternatives in the draft and 2) these are likely to be high-profile players who can instantly sell tickets and merchandise and raise the profile of the team. If the young players were a negative for the league, you’d think that fewer would be drafted over time. Watch this year’s draft and tell me if that’s the case.

I don’t buy Cuban’s line that a 22-year-old is more likely able to handle the fame and fortune of the NBA. We’re talking about a lifestyle and sums of money that are incomprehensible for almost all Americans. Being thrust into that situation whether 18 or 22 or 42 is a life change that can’t be understood until you live it.

Cuban replies to some comments by saying that "there are plenty of companies that will only hire college graduates. Others will only hire Phds." True. But those requirements have little if anything to do with maturity. For those companies, a degree or doctorate is a way to establish that the applicant has a minimal skill level or aptitude for the job. An NBA team’s scouting and player evaluation takes care of that.

For the NCAA, this is a great deal. Their product is worth more when high-quality players stick around whether it’s by the players’ own choice or through artifical restraints on the job market. A few years riding the gravy train with someone like LeBron James? Yes, please.

The NCAA gets to play the academic integrity card too, though it’s a small point. A one-and done can breeze through a trivial fall semester and then blow off his spring classes once the season is over. Someone who stays for two seasons must at least pretend to be a serious student for a full academic year and then some. College isn’t and shouldn’t be the NBA’s purgatory.

So we have a deal that’s great for the NCAA and seems to be a step in the right direction for at least one NBA owner. Win-win all around, right? Sure, unless you’re the talented 18-year-old who must go through the motions of pretending to be a college student while taking the NCAA’s vow of poverty for two years instead of working in your chosen profession.

I’d be OK with a system based on what baseball does. They’ve seemed to manage fine without requiring a cup of coffee in college. If someone wants to come out of high school, fine. Let them and the NBA teams take that risk. If a player would rather head to college, require a minimum stay of three years to show a commitment to education and allow the programs some shred of long-range planning.

2 Responses to 'Stop us before we draft again'

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  • Ubiquitous GA Alum

    April 11th, 2008
    9:15 am


    Don’t these one and done guys adversely impact the school’s graduation rates? I’m thinking yes since they enter a class, but will never finish.

    However, give me an OJ Mayo for a year or three and I could care less if the Nerds make fun of our graduation rates!

  • Leaving early doesn’t by itself bring down the school’s Academic Progress Rate. They would affect graduation rates of course, but there are no NCAA penalties based on graduation rates…so graduation rates are basically fodder for rivals and excuses for firing coaches who don’t win enough. The APR is what matters because there’s a price if the score is too low.

    “The NCAA has made allowances in the APR for people who leave school to turn pro or for some other reason the institution cannot control,” said Glada Horvat, Georgia’s assistant athletics director for academics and eligibility.

    What has changed is that it’s no longer good enough just to be eligible for the semester(s) in which you play. If a one-and-done basketball player blows off spring classes after the season (effectively killing his academic progress), it *would* cost the school. That’s not an unrealistic scenario, and there’s only so much the coach can do to make a guy go to class once the kid has one foot out the door.