You may or may not have noticed this but the deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves eligible for the NBA draft was Sunday. The list of players who put their names into the draft was officially released yesterday.
There were 61 names.
There are two rounds in the draft. A total of 60 players will be drafted. I understand that some players will withdraw between now and May 8th when they find out they aren’t going in the first round—where the money is guaranteed—or that they may not be drafted at all. But most of the big-name players whose names are on the list will stay on the list. And quite a few players will leave their names in, not get drafted and then begin nomadic lives that may take them overseas; may take them to the NBA’s Development League and, in a few cases, will land them in the NBA.
I will grant you that this year is not a good one to use as an example because some players have been convinced by agents that they MUST get into this June’s draft because a player strike or lockout is a virtual certainty in the summer of 2011. Even so, I have reached a conclusion that isn’t based solely on the number of underclassmen who have put their names into the pool, but was crystallized when I read the list yesterday morning: The one-and-done rule doesn’t work. It has to go.
I say that not for the reason that some people do: that it makes a mockery of the term, ‘student-athlete.’ That shipped sailed so many years ago that I’m not sure Columbus had learned to sail yet. In fact, in some ways the one-and-done has cut DOWN on the hypocrisy. Now, when someone who is clearly in college only because the rules say he must be there for a year, doesn’t go to class and makes little or no attempt to even stay eligible in his second semester, there’s no faking involved.
Years ago, the work that went into keeping players eligible for three or four years often involved things like having others take tests and write papers for them; getting grades changed and sometimes sending them to bogus summer school classes so they could keep playing—among other things. With one-and-done, it’s a whole lot neater because you don’t have to keep someone afloat academically for more than a semester. Sure, there’s still cheating going on, but less of it involves the very best players.
They’re in, they’re out and then they’re replaced by the next group. John Calipari won 35 games at Kentucky this season with four freshmen whose names are in the draft pool. He’s gone out and signed a brand new crop, most of whom will probably be in next year’s draft pool after Kentucky wins another 30+ games next season. If you don’t like it, don’t blame Calipari. He didn’t make the rules, he just taking full advantage of them. He’s well worth the $4 million a year Kentucky is paying him. My only request is that he not use the term, ‘student-athlete,’ when talking about his players.
Here’s why I initially thought one-and-done was a good idea: In my own naïve way, I believed it was better for kids to be exposed to college for a year, regardless of how many classes they actually took part in. I thought it was better for them to spend a year on a campus as opposed to a year on charter airplanes. I thought exposing them to other teen-age kids was better than exposing them to 30-year-olds who had been bouncing around basketball for 10 years or more.
I still think that’s all true. But I don’t think this is the way to do it. The NBA and the players’ union—remember these are NBA rules, not NCAA rules—need to fish or cut bait in the next collective bargaining agreement. The old CBA has one year left. Sadly, getting this done appears not to be a priority. NBA commissioner David Stern has been pleading owner poverty since the All-Star Break and, naturally, the players don’t want to hear it. So, a money war—which may or may not lead to a work stoppage; my bet is it won’t—is going to break out. The issue of when a player may try to enter the NBA is likely to be an afterthought.
It shouldn’t be, especially for the union, which is supposed to protect basketball players--past, present and future. Basketball needs to put in the same rule that currently exist in baseball: When a player graduates from high school he can put his name into the draft. If he is drafted he can sign with the team that drafts him or he can go to college. If he DOES go to college though, he can’t go back into the draft for three years.
What that does—especially in a two-round draft—is ensure that an NBA team must REALLY want a player to draft him. It should be the player’s option to choose between the NBA and college rather than forcing players to commit to the draft without knowing whether they will be drafted or not. If, however, he makes the decision to go to college, he can’t jump back in the pool again after one year. He has to stay in college and has to pass enough courses to stay eligible through his junior year.
Will there be some fraud involved in keeping some players eligible? Sure. No system is ever going to be perfect. In many cases though, players will at least be somewhere close to a degree if they leave after three years or if they stay for four. What’s more, they will have a much better idea of their real NBA potential after three years in college. Some will find out they weren’t quite as good as they thought they were in college and might even understand that they NEED a degree.
What’s more, it will put a stop to colleges being revolving doors, one-year way stations en route to the NBA. If a player is good enough to be drafted coming out of high school and that’s his dream, why delay it for one year of college he will see only as a burden? In the case of the occasional kid who really wants to continue his education after turning pro, no one will stop him from enrolling in summer school classes and he’ll certainly be able to afford to pay his own way. In most cases, the kids will end up in college and, like their brethren in football and baseball, will stay at least three years. In 95 percent of cases, that will be a good thing. And, if the players and owners sign off on that sort of rule, it will almost certainly stand up to any court challenge.
I thought one-and-done was a step forward when the rule was passed. It was, in fact, a step sideways. It is time for the players and owners to put an end to the current charade and at least attempt to take a step forward.
A couple of notes based on posts and e-mails from yesterday: A few people asked if The Big Ten’s money per school would go down if it went from 11 to 16 teams. Probably not because the revenues would go up so much: More schools will mean more people paying for The Big Ten Network; more ad revenues; more cable systems taking on The Big Ten Network; a more lucrative national TV contract. It will mean The Big Ten can hold a championship game if it so desires. All that will probably double the gross revenues, which will almost certainly mean more than $22 million net per school each year.
As for Notre Dame, it makes far more than that on football each year between NBC, the BCS—remember it doesn’t have to split any BCS or bowl revenue it makes with other conference members--and neutral site games. Plus, it can control its schedule so that if Brian Kelly is even a decent coach it is almost impossible not to win at least nine games a year.
And finally on the Anna Kournikova-Natalie Gulbis comparison: If anything I was being hard on Kournikova, kind to Gulbis. Yes, Gulbis has won an LPGA event, but Kournikova was a Wimbledon semifinalist who was ranked in the top ten on a number of occasions. If Gulbis goes on and wins a major, I’ll change my assessment. As of now, I think the comparison is more than fair.