Changing the NBA Rules – What’s the Real Reason?

Mark Cuban is suggesting that college players should stay in school for 3 years now instead of the mandatory 1 year they are currently required; reigniting the argument as to why the NBA, of all the professional work places around, deems it necessary for someone to go to school first if they are already qualified. Playing basketball is not like performing surgery, after all it’s not like you need some sort of board certification to get into the NBA like with attorneys, doctors or architects. Even in the NFL, the rationale for having kids go to school first makes a little sense due to the physical nature of that sport. College allows pro football players to bulk up and get stronger in order to deal with the physical demands of such a barbaric National Football League. Further, there aren’t many other options or “farm” teams other than NCAA football to prepare players, so in the case of football I will give Roger Goodell and the NFL a pass.

When it comes to basketball however, time has shown that the best players in the game have in no small percentage foregone college all together (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Tracey McGrady , Jermaine Oneal, LeBron James, etc. etc.). Or they went for only one season (Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and the list goes on). The names previously listed are a who’s who of the NBA and I am sure I’m missing some. So why then if preparedness and impact don’t corelate with time spent in college, do the owners and NBAPA (Players Union) not want high school graduates in their game?

Before we delve in lets get rid of the argument that players that don’t go to college have a worse chance of having a successful life etc, or wash out from the NBA at a higher rate than those that do go. There are no stats to prove this and if you look at the names above it is even harder to make such a claim. Adam Morrison went to college for 4 years and he has barely touched the floor in his career. There is also the issue of college players not being paid while there, yet making their institutions millions of dollars; I’ll save that for another discussion though. Moving on, the answer as I see it is two fold.

irstly from the NBAPA’s perspective the answer is quite clear and for the most part understandable; the existing players don’t want to be giving up their roster spots to teenagers who are younger, stronger and faster than they are. The average career length for most NBA players is less than 3 years so if they can even squeeze one more year making the minimum salary of the NBA, it is well worth them voting for teens to go to college first.

econdly, from the owners’ perspective the answer isn’t what they tell you it is at all. The idea that kids aren’t ready as high school graduates to enter the NBA is defeated on all accounts from a rational basis. The best players currently in the NBA for the most part all came into the league as teenagers and are generally speaking good upstanding citizens as well. So if it isn’t that they aren’t ready, ( the last 4 MVP’s have all been players who either spent 1 year or none in college; LeBron, Rose, Kobe) it has to be something else and as with most things business related, if you follow the money you will find the answer.

The reason that owners and David Stern push back against 18 year-olds entering the draft is because when they enter at that age, they are in line for 2 big raises not just one. You see the owners and teams are able to lock up players they draft for the first 5-7 years without them having any choice in the matter, and the players are eligible to be unrestricted free agents after the initial 5 year stint. If players all did 3 or 4 years in college that would put them around 27 or 28 by the time of their free agency, leaving them with realistically only that period of free agency to make their uber contract/money because by the end of the second contract most of them will be mid 30s and pushed out by younger players. However, when 18 year-olds are entering the draft, they are re-upping their contracts at 23-24 and by 30 they are ready for their second round of free agency while still in their prime playing years. The owners would much rather (for their pocket books and bottom lines) have players only able to re-up once and then get some new young talent in the draft and start the process over.

Keep in mind the players I speak of are the stars in the game and thus demand these raises; as they have usually endeared themselves to the fans in their home cities and put pressure on the owners to retain them, many times doing so by paying premium salaries. So that is pretty much it: the owners don’t want to pay that 3rd contract to these superstars. Cleveland fans would have much rather had a situation where LeBron James came to them as a 22 year old rookie and by the time his free agency period came he was hitting 30 and not 25, thus making his decision to team up and leave them a little more easy to swallow since they would have gotten most of his prime years all for themselves. By the way, you never hear the owners discuss the risk of injury that falls on players who stay an extra year or two in college and risk never making it at all.

Then of course there is the racial component to all of this which I haven’t spoken on yet. As with most things racial, there is no out right proof; you can’t give clear cut evidence to something that is in the heart of another man, but I find it to not be a big coincidence that the two major sports in North America where the talent must go to school first, happen to be the two sports dominated primarily by blacks (NFL and NBA). If you look at golf, tennis, baseball or hockey, players are routinely brought to the big leagues while still sporting acne and braces. No one ever raises a fuss about this. For some reason, black kids from the ghetto should go to college before being able to make money unlike their athletic brothers and sisters in other sports. I will leave this paragraph on that note, because there really isn’t much more to say about the irony of the situation.

If any owner ever tells you something different from what was stated above, just ask them why they don’t show some restraint and refuse to draft the high-school players entering the draft. I’m sure they will concoct some intelligent sounding answer but we all know the real deal. They draft the players because if they don’t they will loose. Here is to Anthony Davis (Freshman ) from Kentucky who is sure to be the first player selected in the NBA Draft this year. Those of you looking to see next years #1 pick, just take a peek at the best high school player heading to college next year and your odds on that being your guy are very good.