Time to revamp NBA's flawed draft-entry rule

Dec 13 2010 - 5:31pm

News item: The NBA players association wants to roll back the draft-entry age to 18.

I think that's a good idea. I'm confident my reasons aren't those of the union. That's not the point -- the system in place makes bureaucrats feel good, but it doesn't actually do any good.

As things stand, a U.S.-born player must be at least 19 and at least a year removed from his high-school class graduating to enter the draft. That rule doesn't apply to foreign players, which makes it innately unfair.

This came about because college basketball coaches were sick of losing their best recruits and because the NBA prefers not to baby-sit teenagers who lack LeBron James' skill or Dwight Howard's size.

So the stake holders came up with this compromise. It holds the appearance of helping everyone, when it actually helps no one: not the NBA, not the college game and certainly not those prodigies who've been stripped of a year's NBA pay.

This is a classic case of unintended consequences. The term "one-and-done" is now as common to college ball as "screen-and-roll." I believe Bob Knight was the first to address the hypocrisy of this new system; how kids with no interest in being students survive one semester academically as the "price" for marketing themselves in an NCAA Tournament run.

College isn't for everyone, and we shouldn't treat it like a prerequisite for playing in the NBA.

When Brandon Jennings wasn't sure he could qualify for college eligibility, he went overseas for a year before coming back to star as a rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks. That worked out, but wouldn't Jennings have been better served on an NBA roster than sidetracked to the Italian League?

I just wish the NBA, the union and the colleges had worked out a real change that addressed the real issues -- a system that acknowledges the prodigies, while protecting the stability of college ball.

There's already a template in college baseball. Kids can be drafted out of high school in that sport, but once they show up for classes and start playing college ball, it's a multiyear commitment.

I'd like to think those big-picture concerns play a role in the union's position, but I doubt it. Demanding a rollback on the draft age sounds tough, so it plays well with the union membership.

More to the point, it sounds like a classic "faux demand." A friend of mine who used to negotiate for a living uses that term to describe trivial issues you claim are big deals, simply so you can bargain them away for things you really want.

I don't think the draft-entry rule is trivial. I think it's so flawed everyone should put aside their agendas and dare to reach for something that works.

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