Col­lege play­ers de­serve op­tions to their ex­ploita­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

Col­lege bas­ket­ball has been a ma­jor as­set to the NBA, sup­ply­ing a stream of play­ers who are de­vel­oped and mar­keted at no cost to the league. The re­la­tion­ship is one-sided, as the pro ver­sion of­fers lit­tle that’s ben­e­fi­cial to the col­lege game. Not that le­git­i­mate gripes should ex­ist. Less than half­way through a 14-year, $10.8 bil­lion broad­cast deal for March Mad­ness, the NCAA agreed with CBS/Turner on an eight-year, $8.8 bil­lion ex­ten­sion that runs through 2032.

Busi­ness is boom­ing for the NBA, too, with a nine-year, $24 bil­lion con­tract from ESPN/Turner that be­gan this sea­son. Yes, TV rat­ings are a chal­lenge in the era of cord-cut­ting, live stream­ing and the Twit­ter­verse, but ev­ery league is fac­ing that is­sue.

So, life is good for the NBA and NCAA … ex­cept the lat­ter keeps fuss­ing over “one-and-done” play­ers. It’s not enough that prep play­ers are in­el­i­gi­ble to be drafted out of high school; col­lege of­fi­cials op­pose stars’ abil­ity to bolt after their fresh­man sea­son.

“My sense is (the age­limit rule) is not work­ing for any­one,” NBA com­mis­sioner Adam Silver told re­porters last week. “It’s not work­ing cer­tainly from the col­lege coaches and ath­letic di­rec­tors I hear from. They’re not happy with the cur­rent sys­tem.”

Silver said the league and the NBA Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion want to change the en­try rule. How­ever, the ad­just­ment might not be to the NCAA’s lik­ing.

Be care­ful what you com­plain about.

Col­lege ad­vo­cates would pre­fer the age limit ris­ing from 19 to 20. Or, they’d like to uti­lize base­ball’s model, in which high school play­ers ei­ther turn pro im­me­di­ately or be­come in­el­i­gi­ble to be drafted for three years. Those op­tions would be great for col­lege hoops. But there’s an al­ter­na­tive that’s much fairer to play­ers — if you’re into that sort of thing — and makes the NBA more re­spon­si­ble for its prod­uct.

The league should drop the age-limit back to 18 and pro­vide de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing through its own farm sys­tem, in­stead of ex­ploit­ing the NCAA’s ex­ploita­tion.

In fact, em­brac­ing the ground­work would al­le­vi­ate NBA con­cerns about the sta­tus quo. Silver said, “I know our teams aren’t happy ei­ther, in part be­cause they don’t nec­es­sar­ily think the play­ers com­ing into the league are get­ting the kind of train­ing” ex­pected of top draft picks.

Sud­denly, hav­ing the likes of Kevin Du­rant, Kyrie Irv­ing, John Wall, Kevin Love and An­thony Davis for just one sea­son doesn’t sound so bad to the NCAA. That’s bet­ter than pre-2006, when play­ers such as Kevin Gar­nett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady

and Dwight Howard never set foot on cam­pus.

Be­fore con­tin­u­ing the de­bate on NBA age-lim­its, we must be hon­est about a cou­ple of things: 1) Many top play­ers at­tend col­lege for one sea­son only be­cause they can’t go di­rectly to the NBA; and 2) there’s a spe­cious sense of con­cern about play­ers at­tain­ing a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion.

As much as I love and re­spect NBA Hall of Famer Ka­reen Ab­dul-Jab­bar, his com­ments on the one-and-done phe­nom­e­non are laugh­able. “It’s a trav­esty,” he told the As­so­ci­ated Press last month. “They’re us­ing the col­lege sys­tem as a step­ping stone to the NBA, and that’s re­ally un­for­tu­nate. I think an ed­u­ca­tion is vi­tal to hav­ing a good life, and these guys aren’t get­ting that op­por­tu­nity. It’s sad.”

But it’s not a trav­esty for ac­tors and mu­si­cians who be­gin pro ca­reers with noth­ing more than a high school diploma. It’s not un­for­tu­nate for en­trepreneurs who drop out of col­lege. It’s not sad for folks who start work­ing and (gasp!) even­tu­ally earn their de­grees later.

Only these young men — on the verge of sign­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tracts — are mak­ing dread­ful mis­takes by not pur­su­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion. Be­cause ev­ery­one knows the only worth­while lessons oc­cur be­tween 18 and 22 when you’re on cam­pus mak­ing other peo­ple rich.

The NBA is right to put more re­sources into its de­vel­op­men­tal league, which be­comes the Ga­torade League next sea­son. Twenty-six of the NBA’s 30 fran­chises have an af­fil­i­ate. Wash­ing­ton is ex­pected to come aboard in 2018-19, leav­ing just Den­ver, New Or­leans and Port­land.

Top-tier G-League tal­ent can earn $75,000-$275,000. That’s less than they’d earn over­seas, but enough in­cen­tive for some play­ers to de­cline the NCAA ex­pe­ri­ence.

Low­er­ing the draft age to 18 and in­creas­ing the G-League’s ap­peal wouldn’t be a death knell for col­lege bas­ket­ball. De­spite the out­sized at­ten­tion they drew, only 39 prep-to-pro play­ers were selected in the 11 drafts from 1995 to 2005. Their ab­sence didn’t wreck the NCAA. Like­wise, col­lege hoops would’ve sur­vived with­out Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jack­son and De’Aaron Fox last sea­son.

Col­lege ball can con­tinue to land great play­ers who pre­fer cam­pus life for nu­mer­ous rea­sons. The NBA can have a thriv­ing mi­nor-league sys­tem, akin to base­ball, for prep stars ready to go pro. Bas­ket­ball fans can en­joy ei­ther or both vari­a­tions of the game.

Con­trary to knee-jerk re­ac­tions, re­vers­ing the one-and-done rule is a win-win-win sce­nario.

It also hap­pens to be the most honor­able course of ac­tion — if you’re into that sort of thing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Silver said “my sense is (the age-limit rule) is not work­ing for any­one.” He said the league and union want to change the rule.

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