Past Time to Change Draft Eligibility Rules

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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski

It’s been over a decade now since the NBA Players Association made arguably its worst decision ever. They negotiated a change that dictated a player had to attend college for at least a year prior to becoming eligible for the draft. This was supposedly done to prevent high school players who weren’t ready for the pros from making a mistake by declaring too early, thereby forfeiting an opportunity to develop in college. It was also going to eliminate the necessity for NBA teams to have scouts and general managers going to high school games and having to include looking at seniors coming out there as well as college players.

Only it hasn’t worked out to anyone’s satisfaction. Instead it has created a whole crop of fake students, people going to school for a couple of semesters and taking as light a load as possible just to remain eligible. In some instances, it’s later been found they weren’t even taking full loads, just a class here or there. Far from being “student-athletes,” they were more like athletic mercenaries. Despite the fact less than 10 percent of all the people playing college basketball even get a chance at the NBA, this rule was still supposed to somehow convince high school stars that at least one year of college was worth something.

But this year’s draft finally convinced pretty much everyone involved that it is time to end this farce. That’s because the first 10 players that were chosen were all one and done types. The first seven overall picks were freshmen, breaking the old record of four set in 2014. There were 16 chosen by the end of the first round. There wasn’t an actual senior picked till Colorado’s Derrick White was selected at number 29. Only two seniors were tabbed in the first round, a record low.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed his feelings about that to the Associated Press, saying it was time for a return to the old days of NBA teams being able to draft high school players. “They have a dog’s life in earnings,” Krzyzewski said. “If it’s a12-15 year career, that’s it. They’re not doctor s or lawyers.”

College coaches, even the ones like Krzyzewski or Kentucky’s John Calipari who have successfully adjusted to the rule, hate it because they can’t have any degree of recruiting certainty from one season to the next. Calipari is a master at turning over a team. He simply goes out every year and recruits a bunch of top players, getting them on the assurances that he can get them NBA ready in a season. Same with Roy Williams at North Carolina, Bill Self at Kansas and any other top coach.

However, these are supposed to be academic institutions, not minor league clubs. While other schools and teams actually have genuine students on their squads, the Power Five conferences load up on players majoring in basketball. That isn’t a crime, but it does make a mockery out of what is supposed to be an extra curricular activity, and the whole NCAA rhetoric about “student-athletes.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was quoted after the draft as saying they are going to “take a serious look at the current rules, and address this situation.”

There is an easy answer available, but for whatever reason the NBA Players Association refuses to adopt it. They could simply implement the baseball rule. MLB teams pick high school players regularly, and offer those taken in the early rounds big money deals. If you sign it, great. You are a pro, and you go down to the Rookie Leagues or wherever if you need seasoning and development. The rare ones like the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper are good enough to play right away, and they are immediately put on the major league roster.

But if you do go to college, then you have to stay a minimum of three years. If you get redshirted, your junior class is when you are draft eligible once more. There’s none of this stashing someone in a bunch of lightweight courses for two semesters while they pretend to be a student. You are legitimately involved in pursuing your degree while you are also playing your sport.

Why the NBA Players Association doesn’t adopt that rule is baffling, but after what has happened this past season, perhaps they will see the light and end the one and done fiasco  by the time the 2018 draft rolls around.

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