College basketball has been a major asset to the NBA, supplying a stream of players who are developed and marketed at no cost to the league.
The relationship is one-sided, as the pro version offers little that’s beneficial to the college game. Not that legitimate gripes should exist. Less than halfway through a 14-year, $10.8 billion broadcast deal for March Madness, the NCAA agreed with CBS/Turner on an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension that runs through 2032.
Business is booming for the NBA, too, with a nine-year, $24 billion contract from ESPN/Turner that began this season. Yes, TV ratings are a challenge in the era of cord-cutting, live streaming and the Twitterverse, but every league is facing that issue.
So, life is good for the NBA and NCAA … except the latter keeps fussing over “one-and-done” players. It’s not enough that prep players are ineligible to be drafted out of high school; college officials oppose stars’ ability to bolt after their freshman season.
“My sense is (the age-limit rule) is not working for anyone,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters last week. “It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system.”
Silver said the league and the NBA Players Association want to change the entry rule. However, the adjustment might not be to the NCAA’s liking.
Be careful what you complain about.
College advocates would prefer the age limit rising from 19 to 20. Or, they’d like to utilize baseball’s model, in which high school players either turn pro immediately or become ineligible to be drafted for three years.
Those options would be great for college hoops. But there’s an alternative that’s much fairer to players – if you’re into that sort of thing – and makes the NBA more responsible for its product.
The league should drop the age-limit back to 18 and provide development and marketing through its own farm system, instead of exploiting the NCAA’s exploitation.
In fact, embracing the groundwork would alleviate NBA concerns about the status quo. Silver said, “I know our teams aren’t happy either, in part because they don’t necessarily think the players coming into the league are getting the kind of training” expected of top draft picks.
Suddenly, having the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis for just one season doesn’t sound so bad to the NCAA. That’s better than pre-2006, when players such as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard never set foot on campus.
Before continuing the debate on NBA age-limits, we must be honest about a couple of things: 1) Many top players attend college for one season only because they can’t go directly to the NBA; and 2) there’s a specious sense of concern about players attaining a college education.
As much as I love and respect NBA Hall of Famer Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, his comments on the one-and-done phenomenon are laughable. “It’s a travesty,” he told the Associated Press last month. “They’re using the college system as a stepping stone to the NBA, and that’s really unfortunate. I think an education is vital to having a good life, and these guys aren’t getting that opportunity. It’s sad.”
But it’s not a travesty for actors and musicians who begin pro careers with nothing more than a high school diploma. It’s not unfortunate for entrepreneurs who drop out of college. It’s not sad for folks who start working and (gasp!) eventually earn their degrees later.
Only these young men – on the verge of signing multimillion-dollar contracts – are making dreadful mistakes by not pursuing higher education. Because everyone knows the only worthwhile lessons occur between 18 and 22 when you’re on campus making other people rich.
The NBA is right to put more resources into its developmental league, which becomes the Gatorade League next season. Twenty-six of the NBA’s 30 franchises have an affiliate. Washington is expected to come aboard in 2018-19, leaving just Denver, New Orleans and Portland.
Top-tier G-League talent can earn $75,000-$275,000. That’s less than they’d earn overseas, but enough incentive for some players to decline the NCAA experience.
Lowering the draft age to 18 and increasing the G-League’s appeal wouldn’t be a death knell for college basketball. Despite the outsized attention they drew, only 39 prep-to-pro players were selected in the 11 drafts from 1995 to 2005. Their absence didn’t wreck the NCAA. Likewise, college hoops would’ve survived without Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox last season.
College ball can continue to land great players who prefer campus life for numerous reasons. The NBA can have a thriving minor-league system, akin to baseball, for prep stars ready to go pro. Basketball fans can enjoy either or both variations of the game.
Contrary to knee-jerk reactions, reversing the one-and-done rule is a win-win-win scenario.
It also happens to be the most honorable course of action – if you’re into that sort of thing.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.