A new program in the NBA’s minor league, the G-League, will offer one-year contracts worth $125,000 to elite basketball prospects who skip college altogether.
The program, announced Oct. 18, is the latest effort to resolve a situation that the NCAA, NBA and NBA Players’ Association all agree is a problem, but it doesn’t go far enough.
In 2006, the NBA and NBAPA agreed to amend Article X of its collective bargaining agreement to require players be 19 years old and at least one year removed from high school to be eligible for the draft. Wanting to stay on the NBA’s radar, players naturally took to the court in college for that year-long wait.
For the “one-and-done” player, it is a year spent playing — and often dominating — at the college level for absolutely no pay, when that same player’s talent alone may have otherwise earned them several million dollars as a rookie.
Forbes projects that 2018 first-overall draft pick Deandre Ayton, the 11th freshman picked No. 1 in the 13-year history of the rule, will earn more than $18 million in the first two years of his rookie contract.
Much worse, though, is that the school commits academic resources for this scholarship athlete to take courses for a degree they don’t intend to finish.
“I happen to dislike the one-and-done rule enormously and wish it didn’t exist,” said Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, at a panel discussion in 2012. “I think it forces young men to go to college who have little or no interest in going to college.”
I find it hard to fathom that the NBA can’t think of the best solution to this problem when they had it before 2006: let the player decide what’s best for him.
The farce of the “student-athlete” in Division I sports is not unique to basketball. NFL rules require a player to exhaust their four-year NCAA eligibility before entering the NFL draft, but talented underclassmen routinely get exemptions after their sophomore year — as long as they have been out of high school for at least three years.
But the NFL’s rule at least gives these athletes a good chunk of coursework done, should they decide to complete the degree. The NBA, however, has made a mockery of the college system since 2006.
Since 2006, 131 players have been drafted after only one season of NCAA play. That’s 131 so-called “students” who took classes for a degree they never needed and may never get.
Notably, that figure includes 25 players at the University of Kentucky, where head coach John Calipari has built his program on a foundation of what he refers to as “succeed and proceed” players.
We live in an age when many colleges are suffering from budget shortages, when NCAA coaches are facing criminal charges for alleged illicit deals with sponsors and when Division I athletes are being treated as unpaid employees when it comes to the use of their images in advertising.
In that environment, how is making an athlete spend a year at the start of their career going to college on a full-ride scholarship beneficial to anybody but those pocketing massive television revenues?
Sure, there are examples like Trae Young, who saw his draft stock rise throughout his college season as he showed the NBA what he was capable of, but that just emphasizes the point that the player should decide what’s best for him. By going to college, Young was missing out on a much smaller sum of money than Ayton, and he benefited to the tune of $12 million in the first two years of his rookie contract.
College basketball can be a great option for players like Young. Forcing players like Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, who both entered college knowing they would jump to the NBA after a year, is unfair to the player, to the college and to the fans.
After ESPN, Sports Illustrated and others reported that negotiations between the NBA and NBAPA to end the “one-and-done” were making little progress, the NBA unveiled its “select contracts” alternative through the G-League.
The league has not yet formed the committee that will determine the eligibility criteria for these contracts.
The program could be a new route for players like Young, but a player like Ayton could still cry foul.
The new G-League option is intriguing, but ESPN and other sources report that top prospects aren’t yet sold on the idea. Some liked the idea of making money in salary and endorsements while focusing solely on basketball, but wanted more information. Others were set on getting the “college experience” and “developing more, physically and mentally.”
The “one-and-done” is not dead, but it is time to kill it.
I’m not saying that an education is meaningless. For players whose NBA careers may not earn them the millions they’ve dreamed of, college is a great backup plan for another career.
But nobody said you can’t go to college after the NBA — you just can’t play varsity ball. Greg Oden, for example, returned to Ohio State after a seven-year injury-ridden career. “Going pro” doesn’t have to mean the end of an education.
Some players find the time to take classes while playing. If players with a year or two of college can finish a degree, what is so inconceivable about a basketball player working out how to complete an entire degree over the course of their playing career?
Even the players who don’t eventually graduate aren’t necessarily disadvantaged for not getting the degree. Many NBA players whose names will live on in the game’s history — Kobe Bryant, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard, to name a few — entered the league straight from high school. Many of these players are routinely lauded for their intellectual approaches to the game.
But the biggest example of this is “the King” himself, LeBron James. Love him or hate him, James’ play shows that he is a constant student of the game. How many times are we going to see post-game press conferences where James describes, from memory, a particular play in the game with more detail than a video replay?
It’s not just his on-court intelligence, though, that impresses. James’ philanthropic work and marketing strategy shows a business savvy that many with business degrees could only dream of. Perhaps that may be the product of surrounding himself with the right people, but even that takes intelligence.
James is the prime example that players who skip college — James first took classes at the University of Akron in 2016, more than a dozen years after entering the league — aren’t “stupid.” He’s a smart man.
Many of the prospects coming out of high school already share James’ business savvy. The top athletes, knowing that NBA players can make far more from endorsement deals than from the league in the salary-cap era, begin to market themselves as a brand before they even graduate.
The “one-and-done” puts that on hold for no good reason and forces the player to wait a year before cashing in on all of their self-promotion.
The NBA may have had good intentions in 2006 when they implemented the “one-and-done” rule, but it made a laughingstock of the collegiate system in America. If the NCAA, NBA and NBAPA can all agree that’s a problem, why is it so difficult to see that the rule is unnecessary?
The player, not the NBA, should decide if college is right for him.