He might not have had the best intentions, but Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee is right. The 19 years of age and 1 year removed from high school ('19 plus 1') restriction on NBA Draft entrants should be changed. Since being implemented in the 2006 NBA Draft, the minimum age limit has had unintended effects including:
- Rewarding coaches that recruit for a season rather than build programs -- Kansas State has had one NCAA Tournament appearance this decade and it just so happens to be the year Mike Beasley spent his mandatory sojourn in Manhattan, Kansas.
- Further mocking the notion of a student-athlete - How many classes have one-and-dones actually attended while at school for 9 months? Why should their tuition be subsidized if they plan to overtly avoid the free education being provided?
- Increasing the power of AAU programs - AAU coaches and cronies create bidding wars for the services of one-and-done players, knowing they will see a major payday when the following June rolls around.
The problem lies in the fact that the NBA feels that the professional game is diluted by the inclusion of players straight out of high school. These are boys trying to compete with men, they argue. They contend that for every Kobe Bryant - a Hall of Fame number one pick, there's a Kwame Brown - a swing, miss and hit yourself in the crotch on the follow through type pick. For every LeBron James - a player that makes an immediate impact, there's an Al Harrington - a player that takes years to get up to speed, years that could have been spent in college. And then there are also the Lenny Cooke and DeAngelo Collins type high schoolers that declare, are not drafted and no longer eligible for college. But alas, the NBA has every right to limit membership into its exclusive association. It's their party and they'll piss on the cake if they want to. So what can be done?
If the NBA won't abolish the restriction, they should increase the minimum age required to enter the draft. Instead of being 19 plus 1, it should be 21 plus 3. Graduating high school players should be given the choice to either commit to playing three years at a University, or playing abroad until eligible for the draft. They should have the opportunity to improve their game while attaining a free education, or compete professionally while earning money. Doing so will remove the negative trends outlined above that currently plague college basketball. The current system encourages players that have no business being in college to attend for a year, despite having no intention to fulfill the student aspect of their student-athlete titles. The current system creates an incentive for morally-ambiguous and near-sighted coaches to recruit players, despite obvious warning signs over the recruits' academic histories. And the current system allows the recruitment of players to become a business, with a college coach, team and program succumbing to demands made by handlers, posses and AAU coaches. Increasing the age limit will rid college basketball of the filth that currently infests it. The filth that everyone smells but passes the responsibility to clean.
The obvious and number one objection to what is proposed above is that the college game will suffer as a result of forcing its best players to go abroad. The game will be less exciting, less interesting and less attractive to fans and more importantly, advertisers. I do not necessarily think that is true. Take the Big East for example. This past year the Big East had quite possibly one of the greatest seasons ever had by a conference. Three number one seeds, five Sweet Sixteen teams, four Elite Eight squads - all records. If the 21 plus 3 rule had been implemented in 2006, the makeup of the Big East teams would not have drastically changed, as 11 of the 16 conference members started at least three upperclassmen. Eleven teams had a starting five of which the majority stayed until at least their junior years, despite having the ability to go pro after their freshman years. A look at this year's Sweet Sixteen yields similar results; 14 out of the 16 teams in the 2009 Sweet Sixteen started three or more upperclassmen.
The outcome of increasing the NBA age minimum will be two-fold. It will appease the NBA which is so very fearful of 18-year olds burning out and it will also clean up the college game. The majority of NCAA infractions that have occurred recently have been publicly disclosed after the alleged perpetrators have left the program. By increasing the age minimum, fewer academically-disinclined athletes will join the collegiate ranks, and coaches will be forced to evaluate risky recruits with a long-term perspective.