Wednesday, July 22, 2009

19 And 1, How the NBA Handles High School Superstars

The NBA currently has a rule, which was part of the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players, where a player must be both 19 years of age and one year or more removed from high school. While I do think there is some harm done to the development of players who would find themselves jumping straight from high school to the NBA, I believe it is not fair (and probably not legal) to have such a rule that disallows 18 year olds from playing in the NBA.

Can you think of any other job where you are not allowed to work there because you are 18 years old? The only such jobs I can think of are POTUS, Senator etc..., but these are written into the Constitution of the USA. There are no "good" reasons to deny an 18 year old the right to pursue a career playing in the NBA. It is only for NBA selfish reasons that this rule was put into place, even if it was part of a bargain with the players union.

The NBA argues that players coming straight out of high school are too inmature and missing the refinement to their skills that they could get in college. Does the NBA really think one year in college or playing overseas will make such a huge leap in the 18 year olds maturity and basketball skill set that it is worth implementing such a rule? Any player who would make the jump straight from high school to the NBA won't likely be attending college for more than one year. Nor will he be taking his college studies seriously.

The NFL has a rule that a player must be three years removed from high school. This rule is also unfair for the same reasons that the NBA rule is, but it's much less contraversial due to the fact that not many football players recently out of high school are physically ready to compete at the NFL level. Both baseball and hockey allow 18 year olds or seniors in high school to be drafted. So what are the differences between the NBA and NFL on one side and the NHL and MLB on the other? The biggest difference I can find is that both basketball and football have huge money making machines at the NCAA level. Meanwhile, NCAA hockey and baseball dwarf in the revenue that they bring in compared to football and basketball. Baseball and hockey to a lesser degree have a well established minor league system for players both drafted out of high school and college. Players aren't called up until they are ready to compete at the major league level.

So let's get back to this thing about the NCAA and making money. Is the NCAA a financial stakeholder in the "19 And 1" rule? You better believe they are. College basketball benefits from having big marquee names playing at the larger schools. Could you imagine the media feeding frenzy that would've drove ratings of a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant playing in the NCAA? There is a lot of money for the NCAA to be made from having these big name players play college ball. Having these big name players (ie - O.J. Mayo) play one year in the NCAA brings in more revenue for the NCAA but is very awkward to say the least when everyone and their uncle knows that these phenoms will be "one and done". This must be frustrating for the NCAA, because it's hard to market a player for only one year. That is why you are starting to hear rumors of the rule being changed from "19 And 1" to "20 And 2". The NCAA would really benefit financially from two years of the best young players. The NCAA really misses the old days of Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing, when it was almost unheard of for a player to leave college before having played for four years.

So what are some of the alternatives. There really only is one, and that is to open up the NBA to any player that is 18 years or older. Any age below 18, I have no problem with placing restrictions as this gets into the "Child labor law" area, which I have no plan of tackling in this post. I believe the "19 And 1" rule is unfair and illegal. Why is it that an 18 year old can pursue any other job, including joining the military and being sent overseas to fight and possibly die for his country? It is plain and simple, age discrimination!!!

If I were an 18 year old basketball phenom, I would strongly consider heading overseas to play for pay. Sure, you could stay at home in the US and play one year for a high profile college team. You could even think of your one year as a try-out or marketing scheme, but you are losing money by not going directly into the NBA, especially if you are a projected lottery draft pick. You also risk injury by playing for free and those insurance policies aren't cheap.

So if I were consulting the NBA and NCAA on how to legally entice 18 and 19 year olds to play in the NCAA what would I do? The only thing I can think of is for college basketball players to get paid. I know the NCAA would probably not go for that. They are worried about the can of worms that could open up. Full ride college scholarships are not enough of an enticement for someone who could currently be making $2-$3M in the NBA. If you want to keep the 18 and 19 year olds from going directly to the NBA then pay them. Realistically, you could not pay a college player what a rookie drafted in the lottery would make, but if the NCAA wants a certain type of player to play college basketball for 2+ years then those players need to be compensated in such a way to make them decide to play college basketball.

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