Everybody writes this column every year: It's that time of the year when all of the old curmudgeon sports writers write the same two articles: that we spend too much time caring about recruiting, and that we need to change whatever the current rule is on when players can go into the Draft (I say "whatever the current rule is" because these articles have been written long before the current system was put into place. People will bitch no matter which system is put into place). The recruiting buzz might be a little bit too much, but certainly it's something that college basketball fans should be caring about. And it's not nearly as much hype as the NFL and NBA Drafts get, which are the equivalent to recruiting season. Why are we supposed to just show up at the first game of the regular season and say "Okay, so who's on the team this year?" We should care. As for the Draft rule, however, I have come around on that issue and find it worthwhile of discussing today. Before I get to that, I have some thoughts on the wrong reasons to change the system:
These are the incorrect reasons for changing the one-and-done rule: I rarely call out other writers, but sometimes an article is so preposterous that it needs a complete deconstruction, and that's how I'd describe this awful piece by Clay Travis in FanHouse about why we should force freshmen to sit out a season. Travis manages to repeat the three dumbest reasons I've ever heard for changing the rule, all in the same article.
1) The NBA shouldn't be allowed to keep players out: First, he argues the old "In what other field do we deny people the right to work whenever they want to work?" line. He says that we don't make rock stars or tennis players wait. Of course, he forgets that there are plenty of professions where we limit access until certain ages, such as doctors and teachers. And more importantly, there is no law that says people can't play professional basketball whenever they want - they just have to go to another league. The anti-trust argument can perhaps be made with the NFL Draft rule because there's really no alternative to the NFL if you want to play football, but if you're an awesome 17 year old basketball player then you can go make millions in Europe. The D-League takes players right out of high school also, if you want to go that route. By no means can it be argued that high school graduates, or even those younger than high school graduates (such as Jeremy Tyler) are being kept from playing professional basketball for a living.
2) The rule is racist: This has always been bizarre, since I'm not sure why a racist NBA would keep young black kids out so that they could instead pay those salaries to... older black players. The teams are going to pay the same amount of money to players regardless. And Travis doubles down by "proving" that the rule is racist because the majority white MLB and NHL don't keep high schoolers out, intentionally ignoring the heavily African-American NFL which keeps players out for three years. And there's a reason why the MLB and NHL are different from the NFL, which is that they have developmental leagues. If you play football there is no room between college football and the NFL, so if you go into the Draft and don't get drafted you're done. In baseball and hockey the teams can stock you in the minor leagues.
3) One-and-done players are corrupt: This is also bizarre, the idea that somehow Worldwide Wes will stop sending his players to NCAA schools if the rules change. There will still be corruption, and changing whether players can do one-and-done won't fix that. I'm all for cutting corruption and players who don't go to classes ever, but the one-and-done rule is not the way to change that.
Remember why the one-and-done rule came about in the first place: People seem to forget why the one-and-done rule came about. Sure the NBA would like a developmental league, but college basketball isn't as big of a factor as people think. Did Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin really enter the league with more hype than Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard? If a player is going to be a star then they'll be a star, whether they play college basketball or not. The NBA is better at developing individual stars than any other sport. And besides, this has been an issue for decades, and the reason the one-and-done rule was created so recently was because of a series of players who tried to go pro out of high school, and either didn't get drafted and disappeared, or got drafted and sat on the end of the bench and never developed. Between 1950 and 2004 there were zero players who entered the Draft out of high school who failed to get drafted and still ended up playing eventually in an NBA game, during a time when hundreds of college players did just that - there was just no safety net for high schoolers that didn't get drafted. It also just seemed like in a short time there was a rapid increase in complete NBA Draft busts out of high school: Kwame Brown, Leon Smith, Jonathan Bender, Korleone Young, et cetera. The NBA was trying to keep kids and NBA teams from making stupid decisions and ruining the careers of promising talent.
But this isn't as big of a deal any more for a couple of reasons. First of all, many kids were taken in by unscrupulous agents who told them they'd be drafted higher than they really were. In today's world there are dozens of websites that project the draft, and everybody knows about where they're going to go. Nobody thinks they'll be a first rounder and then goes un-drafted. Not only did we have a lot of high school busts back in the day, but we also had a lot of kids who left college very early who were busts, and we aren't seeing as many of those anymore either. More importantly, there are alternatives now. We have the D-League, and players can make millions of dollars playing in rapidly growing European leagues. So if players get drafted and aren't going to play then teams have places to dump them so that they can continue to develop. The fear of players ruining their career is not really much of an issue anymore.
The one-and-done players are bad for college basketball: Nobody enjoys the one-and-done players. Even many Kentucky fans are very uncomfortable with the John Calipari situation at Kentucky. It's fine if a player shows up, has a great season and can't turn down the NBA. It's when we have players who show up at college with no intention of ever showing up for more than a semester of classes, and are just making a six month pit stop on the way to the NBA, that it's a problem. If they want to go pro then let them go pro. And if they're not as good as everybody thinks they are then they can go spend a year in the D-League.
Go back to the old rule: The Travis idea of not letting freshmen play is dumb for a few reasons. First of all, nobody who thinks they might go pro after a year would go to college, they'd just jump to the Europe or the D-League and never give a college career a chance. In addition, what happens if you have a case where a team blows up with a lot of players leaving due to the NBA, and/or a coaching change and/or internal issues, such as we have now with schools like Oklahoma, Kentucky and USC? Or what about a case where a school just graduates a ton of seniors, like Cornell or Kent State? Since teams are limited to 13 scholarships, if seven players leave you can only play six guys the next year unless you stock up on Juco players or just add a bunch of walk-ons from campus! Travis seems to think that this would be an elaborate game of chicken and the NBA would fold, but in fact they would call the bluff knowing that college basketball can't survive without allowing freshmen to play in the modern scholarship era.
Instead, just let players go pro out of high school, or after any year of college. If they go pro but end up unable to play well then they can play in another league. There are other options, and any player who has the talent to think they can play in the NBA and who is willing to play at a lower level will have a job for them at a lower level at the very least. And while some players will still go one-and-done, they will at least be considering the possibility of sticking around further, and will be student-athletes. If players at least enter college basketball knowing they might want to stay another year then they'll play with an open mind and if they enjoy their situation then they'll stay longer. And at least they'll be going to class.
In the modern era, the one-and-done rule just doesn't make sense.