The organizations want to make players wait an extra year before they can go pro.
Eras aren't what they used to be. Anthony Davis, the fabulously talented 6'10'' forward of the Kentucky Wildcats national championship team, an era was just one season. Davis and probably two of his "one-and-done" freshman teammates will be bolting for the NBA. On Draft Day, Thursday, June 28, Davis—by consensus the year's best college basketball player—forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and point guard Marcus Teague will head for the pros, and a new batch of blue-chip studs recruited by Kentucky coach John Calipari for the sole purpose of playing just one year will be poised to take their places.
The NBA has a rule that requires players to be 19 years old or have completed one year of college before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft. The rule was instituted in 2007, a delayed reaction to LeBron James having skipped college altogether and gone straight from high school to the pros in 2003, proving that for the truly elite players the transition was not hard.
The NCAA, though, and the NBA don't like the idea of players skipping college ball and want to do something about it. Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA and the latest wet blanket to be dropped on college sports by its ruling body, sat on a panel discussion just before the start of the NCAA tournament and said, "I happened to dislike the one-and-done rule enormously and wish it didn't exist. I think it forces young men to go to college who have little or no interest in going to college."
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I hate to take a cynical note on this, but I don't think Emmert or anyone else in the NCAA really cares about young men going to college—or at least attending college classes. I think what they care about is whether or not these young men play college basketball, and I think what they would like is to have the NBA's cooperation in doing anything they can to keep boys playing college basketball for as long as they can.
The simple reality is that most basketball and football players who wind up in the pros had little or no interest in going to college in the first place. They want to be first in line for the professional drafts that will take them away from the world of amateur sham, very reasonably wanting their talents to produce revenue for themselves and their families instead of university athletic departments. Now, when the boys are in the best position to make that pay for them, colleges pretending to show some concern.
"It makes a travesty," said Emmert, "of the whole notion of student as an athlete." One might call that poetic justice since for nearly a century colleges have been making a travesty of the notion of athlete as student.
Emmert was a guest on NBC Sports' Costas Tonight Wednesday night, trying to convince Bob Costas and the nation that he is the leader of an organization bent on reforming college sports.
So why is Emmert so against the one-and-done rule? "It simply creates the wrong type of environment for us," he said. "If you're coming to us to be a collegiate athlete, we want you to be a collegiate athlete."
In his own double-talking way, Emmert was actually expressing the truth, or at least a version of it. What he meant was that if a player—for the sake of argument, let's say his name is Anthony Davis—attends a prestigious basketball school like Kentucky for one year and the moves on to the pros, it's Davis and not college basketball who gets the most benefit. For decades the heart of college basketball's appeal has been the fans' delight in watching a player grow and mature into a great talent over three and, in some cases, even four seasons.
With so many players leaving school so soon to go to the pros, the appeal of the game has eroded. Regular-season college basketball TV ratings and attendance have been slipping now for several years.
Not coincidentally, the NBA has also suffered from an overall ratings slump and slightly declining attendance over the last few years, suffering from a dearth of well-known superstars who aren't named Kobe or LeBron. Commissioner David Stern has expressed some enthusiasm for having the league owners pass a new rule which would require a two-year minimum wait between high school and the NBA—in other words, future Anthony Davises would be forced to spend at least one more year playing basketball for free before getting a chance to cash in.
Why does the NBA care how long players stay in college or whether they are in college at all? For the simple reason that college basketball doesn't depend on the existence of the pros, but the pros could not exist without the colleges. Not only does the NBA pay not a dime in player development, it has always benefitted enormously from the fact that its best players were already household names by the time they were drafted. It costs the NBA nothing to wait another year or two to get the players and works much to their advantage if they're even more famous when they put on an NBA uniform. After all, the boom era of the NBA began in 1978 when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were drafted, respectively, by the rival LA Lakers and Boston Celtics—after having faced each other in the highest-rated NCAA final up to that time between Michigan State and Indiana State.
Note that one never hears about the NCAA and NBA getting together to make pronouncements on this subject; that would seem too much like collusion. One might call their relationship, as Dana Carvey's Church Lady used to say, conveeenient. After all, there's no need for conspiracy when both parties are in agreement.