Welcome to the Fifth Edition of Friday Feuds! This week, Tondo and I discuss whether or not the NBA's current age limit is actually effective in developing talent for the professional level. In an ever-evolving industry where athletes have more agency than ever, is the one-and-done rule still necessary?
Sam Opening Statement: As we move more and more towards an era of heightened player agency and advocacy at both the professional and amateur level, we're going to see several longstanding concepts either change, or be eradicated entirely. In the NCAA, we are seeing players move towards seeking sponsorships outside of their college team, seeking payment from their teams, and other methods of profiting off of their likeness before entering the pros. As these changes are rolled out, the NBA should join in by lowering their entry age limit back to 18. If you're good enough to get into the league, your entry should not be delayed.
Will Opening Statement: While I support expanded player agency in the NCAA, if we touch the one-and-done rule, we are going to lose a lot of top talent in college basketball. You always have these tournament heroes, guys that make their name on mid-major teams, and even some blue-blood heroes. You'll always talent, but you're going to miss out on guys like the Kevin Durants, the Anthony Davis', the Kyrie Irvings. Those were guys who were there for one year, but were able to expand their notoriety through college play. Without a one-and-done rule, the NCAA is going to be worse off without these top names, and these top names are going to be worse off without that extra year of development.
Sam: I think your opening statement covers one of the biggest reasons for this rule ever being created in the first place. For those of you unfamiliar, this rule was created by the NBA in 2005, and while the possibility of lobbying from the NCAA exists, there's nothing on the record to indicate that. Your concern is very valid, but to me, I think that argument ignores over 50 years of the NCAA and the NBA coexisting without the one-and-done rule.
Let me point to guys like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar for example. They all went to their respective colleges for multiple years, and are some of the most exciting players in both professional and college basketball history. If they wanted to, given the rules at the time, they could have tried to go to the NBA straight out of high school. They might not have earned the notoriety that their college careers provided them, but the path was technically there for them.
I think when people point to the one-and-done rule being a good thing, they point to guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. All drafted straight out of high school, these three players and others continue to be some of the biggest what-if stories in the history of college basketball. While I do think the NCAA missed out on that talent, these guys were transcendental players that already had what it takes to get into the NBA. While getting rid of this rule might convince more guys to skip college, players will still want to seek out those crucial developmental years in college. If anything, it would allow players who do want to go to college first more time to develop instead of getting to the NBA as quick as possible.
Will: The difference between those guys and now, is that nowadays everyone wants that instant gratification. Guys are coming out of high school and are pretty confident that they can make it into the league. However, the gap between high school and the league is much wider than it was twenty-plus years ago. It's a gap in physicality, individual strength, skill level, basketball iq, you name it. You're not going to have many guys jump right into the NBA like Kobe or LeBron and be great right away anymore. Those guys are once in a generation talents.
To go along with that, although there are some really great high school coaches, you're not going to have coaches like Izzo, Pitino, or Krzyewski at the high school level. At the high school level, you don't have those minds that can teach on and off-court fundamentals like you do in college. You may have a high school coach that makes an impact on your life, but you won't get the same experience as those coaches who have continuously worked with top-level talent to prepare you for the league. Aside from developing your skills, these college coaches are crucial in preparing you for a professional lifestyle that you can't learn anywhere else.
Sam: You bring up a really good point. Entering the NBA from high school is a massive culture shock that a lot of players are not prepared for. To go along with that, I'd like to dissect a common misconception about the one-and-done rule. As I mentioned before, the one-and-done rule was created by the NBA in 2005, not because college basketball programs were mad about the potential money they lost from LeBron going straight to the pros. The rule was put in place by David Stern because of an influx of high school players that faced the same problem you just described. These players had a ton of talent, but they were not prepared for the pro lifestyle. This led to copious amounts of mid-to-late draft picks that became busts due to not having that groundwork laid before them by college.
That being said, I still think that risk existing in a world where players can make the decision to go to the pros is a much better trade off than being forced to wait and essentially lose a year's worth of time to profit off yourself. I hate to make it about money, but I think it's really important to mention given the current climate of college athletics.
A prime example I'd like to use is Zion Williamson. I don't know about you, but as someone who occasionally checks up on the world of high school basketball, I was hearing about Zion since he was 15 years old. I was watching clips of a high school sophomore who, to me, already looked ready for the NBA. In his only year at Duke, he was the top headline every night he played. During March Madness in 2019, CBS had a dedicated "Zion Cam," which focused on any crazy highlight he was involved with. Even though that had his name on it, Zion never got any compensation for it. He wasn't allowed to.
Additionally, while Zion is doing well in the NBA now, he got hurt his freshman year. Same thing for Nerlens Noel eight years ago at Kentucky. Along with missing out on a year's worth of compensation. you're risking a potential major injury before you can even secure your spot in the NBA. There's so much that can go wrong in a year that makes the risk not worth it.
Will: I can agree with that. When talking about college athletes and potential compensation, there are a couple more Friday Feuds in themselves that we could do. If players can establish these brands for themselves, they should be able to, but this is a different conversation. This is more about the NBA wanting incoming players to be at least 19 years old no matter what they do in between high school and the league. Whether that's going to college, playing in Europe, or going to the G-League, that jump is still too wide for players to not have that crucial development time.
If I may, I'll compare it to prep schools. Prep schools provide an extra year of development for players to get into a bigger college program. Same goes for JuCo; they give an opportunity to help student-athletes refine their craft for the next level. These programs are put in place to provide that professional development.
Look at football. You can't go right to the NFL out of high school. In baseball, you go through prospect camps and minor leagues for years before you make a major league debut. In soccer, unless you're a Messi or Ronaldo, you're in development camps for nearly ten years before you turn pro. The NBA shouldn't be any different. The system needs to be fixed in many ways, but you need to look at it as an opportunity to develop instead of a hinderance.
Sam: I concede that these development programs are more than essential in other major sports. In Football, you have the three-and-done rule essentially, where players can't enter the league until they're three years out of high school. While I think that it's an ok system right now, I'd like to point out that the jump from high school to the NFL is miles wider than the jump from high school to the NBA. Part of it is how specialized the sport is, and it's not a complete apples to oranges comparison, but I think it's a bit tougher of a comparison than you're currently making it out to be.
Sam Closing Argument: I don't think every basketball player is ready for the NBA right out of high school. Additionally, getting rid of the one-and-done rule will not eliminate the existence of one-and-done players, and that's ok. Playing for less than four years has never been bad for player development or the quality of play within college basketball. The problem stems from the lack of choice. As long as these college athletes aren't getting compensated for their play, we need to maintain an environment that provides these players with the most choices available.
Will Closing Argument: If students have the ability to choose their college, they should also have the ability to choose not to play in college. That being said, the NBA is imposing this rule for the development of the student athletes. While I think it's unfortunate that they don't have the power to ensure these student athletes are compensated in that one year of development, the NBA is looking out for their own best interests, as well as the interests of the fans and players, that any talent coming into the NBA has had some prior experience on a national stage.