The NBA’s age minimum turns 13 years old this year, which means that we’re well over a decade into the one-and-done era. And at this point, it’s probably fair to say that no one likes the current system.
College basketball fans don’t like seeing the best players (like Oklahoma’s Trae Young, seen above, who just declared for the draft) leave after a single year in school. Schools struggle with the lack of roster continuity. NBA fans don’t see much reason to wait for stars to reach the pros. The players themselves feel boxed in by a rule that limits their choices. Maybe NBA executives like seeing the best prospects get some reps against high-quality competition, but as far as upsides go, that’s about it.
Well, it seems that a potential solution is gaining momentum. On Wednesday, the Big East officially recommended that the “one and done” rule be replaced by a “two or none” rule, which would allow players to go straight to the NBA from high school or require them to stay two years in college. Among the benefits, the conference argued, would be a decrease in agents interfering with high-school recruiting.
There is no question in our minds that were this to occur, certain third party influences that are at the heart of the criminal investigation would be re-directed away from college programs, and at least some of the problems the sport faces today would be eliminated. The NCAA would still be left with other challenges with respect to ethical conduct in the recruiting area, but the impact of a draft eligibility change would be immediate and substantial. If the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, who together control draft eligibility, do not agree to make a change, we believe it will be very difficult to bring about meaningful reform at the highest levels of college basketball. Accordingly, we urge the NCAA to devote whatever efforts and resources are needed to publicly and privately persuade those two entities that their interests and the interests of the sport would be best served by such a move.
The Big East’s memo lands on a similar recommendation to that of the recently convened Pac-12’s men’s basketball task force, which suggested last week that the NBA drop its age requirement but that pro teams refrain from drafting players until three years after they finished high school. In baseball, for example, players are eligible for the draft straight out of high school, then not again until after their junior seasons. Unlike in basketball (and football), baseball players retain their eligibility even after being drafted, allowing them to decline a pro contract and head to school instead.
If you ask 10 basketball fans what the solution is to the one-and-done problem, you may very well get 10 different answers. If your priority is strengthening the college game, you’ll probably want players to stay in school as long as possible. If your goal is giving players as much choice as possible, you’ll probably prefer teenagers be allowed to jump straight to the pros. If your goal is some sort of compromise, you have plenty of options.
In the end, these conferences don’t actually get a say in this and nor does the NCAA, as it’s the NBA and the NBPA who negotiate the age minimum. (Though the NCAA could do its players a solid by allowing them to return to school if they go undrafted, which would result in some players winding up with longer college careers.) But the more the powers that be in college sports bang the drum for a two-or-none system or something similar, the more likely the NBA poobahs are to take note.