One and Done: Ton of Fun or Should Be Undone?

Bradley Beal spent one season under the tutelage of Billy Donovan before going to the Washington Wizards in the NBA draft and helped the Gators to an Elite Eight berth. (sportschump)

Bradley Beal spent one season under the tutelage of Billy Donovan before going to the Washington Wizards in the NBA draft and helped the Gators to an Elite Eight berth. (sportschump)

The “one and done” rule or as I like to call it the “park and ride” rule because it simply forces top high school basketball talent to park their butts on a college campus for six months before riding off into the NBA sunset, is the likely the most inefficient solution to what is even more likely a ridiculously small problem.

For the basketball illiterate the ‘one and done’ rule is the NBA draft eligibility rule which requires a draft entrant to be at least one full year removed from high school graduation before he is eligible to enter. It’s a very recent rule, included in the 2005 NBA-Players Union collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and extended after the NBA lockout in 2011. Prior to that, one only had to be 18 years of age to be eligible. Despite this prior rule it was almost unheard of for a player to enter the NBA draft without going to college first. That is, until 1995 when Kevin Garnett was drafted as a lottery pick right out of high school. Following Garnett there was a seeming flood of high school players seeking to enter the draft.

This created a paradox for NBA executives who, for many decades, had enjoyed the free farm system that college basketball provided and became increasingly concerned about the number of players seeking to join the draft immediately upon high school graduation. Of course, for clubs who were able to get top level players like Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, and Lebron James, the ability to draft recent high school grads was a blessing from heaven. But for every Garnett, Koby, or Lebron there were two or three who never panned out or were less than stellar (for Gator fans the name Kwame Brown should come to mind). Beyond wasted draft picks and blown money, these players and the increase in players declaring out of high school was beginning to become a public relations nightmare for the NBA who faced scorn and criticism that the lure of riches was pushing easily influenced young men to make bad decisions about their futures.

So in response to this perceived problem, NBA executives pushed to have a minimum age limit established which would prevent players from going straight from high school to the NBA draft. Prior to a 1971 supreme court ruling in an anti-trust case against the NBA which they lost, they had a minimum age limit for decades-back then a player had to be four years removed from his high school graduating class before they could enter the draft.

So the ‘one and done’ rule was a compromise in the 2005 CBA between the NBA which wanted a higher threshold and the player’s union which opposed any minimum age limit beyond 18. The problem I see is twofold. First, was there sufficient reason for the NBA to be concerned about drafting kids right out of high school? The way I see it, no. At least not from the official reason stated by the NBA for supporting an age requirement.

Their story: They were looking out for impressionable young men who were easily influenced into making poor decisions about their future by the allure of quick riches provided by the NBA draft.

Reality: They were looking out for themselves by protecting impressionable adult men (GM’s) who were easily influenced into making poor draft decisions by the allure of drafting the next Kobe Bryant despite having never seen them play against anything other than high school competition.

The fact remains that whether they cared about young men’s futures or not, it is not their business to decide that for them. In a free society adults are expected to take responsibility for their own decisions and their own actions and face up to the consequences of those decisions. Were there kids making poor decisions based solely upon bad information or bad reasoning? Absolutely! But the reality is having a minimum age requirement regardless of how high the threshold isn’t going to stop people from making bad decisions. No rule the NBA can come up with can help kids make better decisions. There are many influences in a young man’s life which shape his decision making one of the least of which are a professional sports’ leagues entry rules.

From that vantage point a problem was made up where, realistically, none existed.

Let’s face it, major league baseball has allowed players to be drafted right out of high school forever and the world has not fallen apart. Do players make poor decisions about the draft versus college issue? Absolutely! Unfortunately, that’s part of life. But nobody blames major league baseball. And they shouldn’t blame the NBA either.

Secondly, assuming a problem does exist, this is most likely the most inefficient method for dealing with it. What am I talking about? One year does not change anything in terms of either better preparing a player for the rigors of the NBA (which is realistically what instituting a minimum age requirement is all about) or in helping a player make a better decision about his future. A kid hankering for money and impatient about his future isn’t any more likely to make a good decision about staying or going one year later than he would have coming out of high school.

While it’s true a kid who falters as a freshman in college who might have been drafted out of high school is likely going to have the luxury (wow that’s an oxymoron) of a more realistic draft evaluation but is he more likely to heed it? I think not. Guys leave school early every year from every class with low evals. Every season there are players who obviously would benefit from staying in school for one, two, or even three more years yet ignore everything around them because they are spellbound by blind optimism in their abilities and draft prospects. A one year removed from high school rule does not change that.

Let’s at least be honest about the real reason the NBA supports the higher age threshold. They want to enjoy the benefit that a free farm system provides. They get a better quality draftee the longer he plays against better competition and receives better coaching prior to being drafted into the NBA. Without a doubt. But not after one year. One lonely season in college basketball does not make a considerable difference in a potential draft entrants skills. In fact, it can be argued that player would benefit more from spending that year on an NBA roster than on a college roster.

Certainly there are some good coaches in the college ranks but very little about the college game translates to the NBA from the 30 game season compared to an 82 game NBA schedule to the three point line which is shorter in college than in the NBA to offensive and defensive schemes to the speed of the game. Going to college only makes sense if doing so is going to increase and hone the player’s skill set. One season of college ball isn’t likely to affect that significantly.

Realistically, the rule benefits the college game as well, at least to a small degree. It allows fans the opportunity to get some top quality talent on their campus for a short time, seemingly giving them a leg up on other programs who are unable to reel in this talent. For schools like Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and Arizona, their teams are arguably much better this season than they would be in the absence of these ‘one and done’ers’. The argument can also be made that long term the presence of these types are harmful to the program’s overall health. Schools like Kentucky, while riding a class of ‘one and done’s’ to a national title a couple of years ago, have to seemingly overturn their roster yearly. This allows for little teaching and no stability long term. Players are not there long enough for fans to build any kind of relationship with them. It’s a yearly roller coaster ride for fans and coaches become more caretakers and handlers than teachers. Is this what fans of college basketball want?

So what are the potential alternatives? First, they could simply admit that there is no problem or if there is it isn’t their problem to solve and remove the minimum age requirement past the age of 18. Will it hurt the college game like many say it did before they instituted the rule? Not significantly and effectually only in the short term. All it really does is remove the very top tier of NBA ready or close to NBA ready talent, those who would be leaving early at any rate and do not significantly impact the programs of long term oriented college coaches, such as Florida’s Billy Donovan for instance. Likely, it would impact a few top programs like Kentucky and Duke who tend to recruit a lot of those players. But realistically it will simply put more of a premium on good coaching which is a good thing for college basketball.

Will it hurt the pro game? Again, minimally and mostly in the short term. In the pros, allowing high school age draft entries will simply put a premium on good draft analysis as well as good coaching. Isn’t that what they’re paying them big bucks to do in the first place? The tired old excuse that the NBA wants to keep it’s talent evaluators out of the high school gyms is simply a smoke screen. First, in the information age, much evaluation can be done remotely. Secondly, the NBA could simply ban their employees from attending high school games and practices. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should or have to. Setting up rules to prevent people from shooting themselves in the foot is simply… Unamerican.

In my mind the best and smartest solution is simply to return to a minimum age requirement of 18.

Once again, assuming they wish not to scrap the age requirement necessarily, the next best thing would be to adopt the baseball rule. Allow them to enter the draft at 18 or immediately following high school graduation, but if they choose to attend college then they wouldn’t be eligible to enter the draft until after their third year following initial college attendance. This gives players options. For the top guys who are can’t miss prospects they don’t have to live out the hypocrisy of showing up for college classes for a semester and a half before bolting for predraft workouts. For all others, it gives them the opportunity to attend college and still be able to turn pro without having to wait the entire four years. This would at least get them in line with the other two major American pro sports leagues, baseball obviously, and also football which, while not allowing direct drafting after high school, does require a three year wait before being eligible.

Adopting the baseball rule or some variation thereof, allowing draft entry after two years for instance, would require some tweaking by the NCAA as well concerning their eligibility rules. Perhaps, they could, like baseball, allow players to enter the draft and then give them the option of taking the college scholarship if they are not drafted or if they are drafted allowing them the option to go ahead and attend college if they don’t sign a professional contract.

Either way the current ‘one and done’ system is a horrible idea which benefits neither the pro game nor the college game, doesn’t serve the needs of the player, and definitely needs to either be scrapped entirely or tweaked to be more effective to achieve stated goals. 

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