Analysts, pundits, and college basketball fans often bemoan the NBA’s notorious “one-and-done” rule that allows college basketball players to enter the NBA draft when they are one year removed from high school. They argue that forcing the top student-athletes to stay an extra year will make them better players in the long run and improve the quality of college basketball as a whole, but they don’t have top prospects’ best interests at heart when they say that. Rare teenaged superstars should be allowed to enter the NBA right out of high school if they are skilled enough.
However, a very very elite few college basketball players don’t need college at all, and shouldn’t be forced into a greedy institution that treats its laborers as product, not human beings. The NCAA is a money making machine. Last year, March Madness raked in over $750 million in revenue, money that big name college programs have become dependent on. In most cases, student-athletes are equally dependent on the free exposure and other benefits that the NCAA provides in return. This isn’t always the case, though.
Let’s take Nerlens Noel as an example. He’s 18-years-old, 6-foot-10, and was the consensus number one basketball player in the country last year coming out of high school. He would have likely been chosen with the first overall pick in the NBA draft had he been allowed to declare for it. Instead, he signed with the University of Kentucky.
In many ways, he took the same path as Anthony Davis, the top pick in last year’s NBA draft. Like Noel, Davis is an imposing 6’10” shot blocker with big time NBA upside written all over him. He, too, was the top high school player in the country. He, too, signed with Kentucky. He spent a few months at the school, knowing that he would never come close to graduating. He scraped by, doing the minimum to remain academically eligible, as if academics had anything to do with Davis’ brief stop at Kentucky.
College helps train young adults for better careers. It makes them more qualified and sharpens their thinking. Colleges give the work force better accountants, scientists, and teachers. When colleges try to groom basketball players too, they cross the line between school and business.
The University of Kentucky had nothing to offer Anthony Davis. It had nothing to offer Nerlens Noel. Those two individuals are not student-athletes. They are basketball players. They have already determined their careers, and they were the most qualified candidates for the NBA in the entire country at age 18.
The only reason they bothered with college is because they were coerced into going as part of a forced, exploitative relationship. I won’t go so far as to bring in the ‘s’ word, but the NBA and NCAA are in the wrong here for forcing basketball players to go to college. The “one-and-done” policy has nothing to do with right, but everything to do with money. Lots and lots of money.
Through 24 games, Noel was averaging over 10 points, 9 points, and 4 blocks per game for the Wildcats. On February 12, he tore his ACL in a game against the University of Florida. While Noel is still considered to be an elite prospect in the upcoming NBA draft, his injury raises significant concerns with the “one-and-done” rule.
What if Noel is never the same player on the court? How many millions of dollars does he stand to lose if teams shy away from him in the draft?
Thankfully, Noel is expected to make a full recovery. If his injury were career-ending, though, the NCAA would be morally culpable.
The harsh reality of sports like football and basketball is that careers are unpredictable and can be cut short at any given moment. It’s well within the rights of professionals to hold out for a richer contract or to test free agent markets in search of a big pay day. While the NCAA will make a killing no matter who suits up during March Madness, elite athletes live life much closer to the edge. That’s why the NCAA should just do the right thing and let the five or six players who are good enough to make the jump to the NBA forgo college altogether.
To deny Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis the opportunity to cash in their remarkable talents whenever they can is borderline criminal. As Noel’s ACL tear proves, athletes often times only get one chance at a big contract.
Some argue that high school kids are not physically ready for the rigors of professional sports. That’s laughable. “One-and-done” looks out for the interests of wealthy college presidents and coaches, not the players. Second of all, there’s no way a 19-year-old Nerlens Noel coming off ACL surgery is more physically ready for the NBA than a healthy 18-year-old version of himself.
The NBA and NCAA should not be in a position to make that decision for young basketball players, anyway. Let the prospects decide whether or not they need college to hone their craft before turning pro. Instead, a business with a tremendous interest in keeping its most talented players for as long as possible is charged with determining what is best for a player.
One-and-done players attend college for eight months, a time period too short for much physical development to happen. There’s barely enough time for “student-athletes” to pretend to learn, for professors to pretend to teach, and for the NCAA to pretend to care.
Some college programs have become glorified minor league teams who use their university label as an excuse not to pay the men who are bringing in tens of millions of dollars to the school. That’s a morally indefensible practice that the NBA can and should eradicate immediately.
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