One and Done is in the Best Interest of Basketball Players
NCAA president Mark Emmert and Kentucky coach John Calipari recently expressed their opposition to the NBA’s one and done rule, claiming that it is not in the best interest of aspiring basketball players. Their opinions can hardly be considered objective, and their claims are dubious at best.
The problems that necessitated the rule
The NBA clearly needed to make some sort of rule to curb attempts to enter the NBA straight out of high school. First, there are the cautionary tales of kids that were given the wrong advice and lost their chances to play in college- kids like Taj McDavid, Ellis Richardson, and Lenny Cooke. Then, from the NBA’s point of view, there are the kids that did get drafted and simply should not have, like Leon Smith, Jonathan Bender, Robert Swift, and Desagana Diop. They represent wasted draft picks and wasted minutes, and that may not have happened had the one and done rule been around at the time. One year of college would have gone a long way towards exposing where those players really were developmentally.
What is in the best interest of the players?
So what if players aren’t ready for the NBA yet? Or better yet, what if they’re never going to be ready? Taking a scholarship and beginning what a player might consider a just in case education isn’t just an insurance policy, it’s their most likely road to future success (more than 98% of them will in fact be “going pro in something other than sports”). Unfortunately, that is merely wishful thinking; as almost every single top ten rated high school recruit since one and done was instituted in 2006 has left college before graduating, whether they were going to be drafted or not. Whether one and done, two and done, or three and done, almost all of them have started college with one foot out the door and have eventually taken the second step. Changing the one and done rule wouldn’t change that; nothing will. It is the result of the tremendous amount of hype created around young basketball players well before anyone could know for sure if they will ever be successful in the NBA.
The NBA does provide an alternative to college
College isn’t for everyone, and it’s a particularly bad fit for people that struggle academically (many players are also too immature for college, but those players will have problems in the NBA as well). Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently stated that “the NFL and NBA have been irresponsible in not providing other legitimate opportunities for kids that really don’t want to go to college.” That is more than a little bit misleading and/or misinformed: the NBA Developmental League is a viable alternative for young basketball players, albeit not a very well promoted one. The players are paid between 12,000 and 24,000 per year plus room and board during the season. While no one is going to get rich that way, it is a livable wage, and it certainly provides more money than playing in the NCAA. The players do of course have the rest of the year to make more money elsewhere. In just about every way, the D-League is a better training ground for professional basketball players than the NCAA. The games are essentially college all star games for players that aren’t quite ready, and there are usually at least two players with NBA contracts on each of the 17 D-League teams. It isn’t quite the NBA, but it is a step above college, players don’t have to worry about academics and can just concentrate on basketball, and the rules and style of play mirror the NBA. P.J. Hairston found himself on the outside looking in at the NCAA as a result of disciplinary issues, and he instead went to the D-League. His draft stock has actually improved since then, as he has proved that he is a good fit for the NBA’s style of play.
So then, who wants to change the rule and why?
Not surprisingly, the people that object to the one and done rule are largely individuals that would benefit from it being changed (again, not the players). Coaches would love for there to be less roster turnover and to keep their star players for longer, and administrators additionally believe it would be more profitable to have those players around longer. Even fans are highly motivated to keep players in school longer for selfish reasons. It’s possible that some members of each of those groups believe that changing the rule would increase graduation rates, but as I have already said that belief is largely an erroneous one. John Calipari has additionally voiced support for a two and done rule, but that would merely hold players like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Jabari Parker hostage after already proving themselves in college, and some of those players may wish to begin supporting their families. How much better would those Kentucky teams be if the one and dones became two and dones? It’s ironic that Calipari would be a vocal proponent of a two and done rule, as his over-recruiting has, on several occasions (Archie Goodwin and Daniel Orton among others), pushed players into the NBA draft that weren’t ready but wanted to avoid the fate of Alex Poythress (he found himself on the bench this year because of the freshman class and saw his NBA draft stock plummet as a result).
Fortunately, the one and done rule isn’t up to the NCAA, but rather to the NBA. If John Calipari, or any other NCAA coach, believes that a player isn’t suited for college or is undeniably destined to play in the NBA, they can always refer them to the D-League. Somehow, though, that seems very unlikely.