Recently there was a very interesting piece on ESPN with a discussion between Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless about Mark Cuban’s comments that college basketball players ought to wait two or three years after graduating high school before they can enter the NBA draft. NBA commissioner David Stern also weighed in with his thoughts that players should wait at least two years until entering the NBA draft as well. Both acknowledged that the NFL has a rule requiring college football players to attend college for three years before they enter the NFL draft.
There are multiple issues involved in this that are sometimes difficult to untangle. These issues generally revolve around what is best for the individual player, what is best for the player’s in general (the union), what is best for the profitability of NBA teams, and what is best for the good of college basketball. But, to summarize, they come down to these main points:
Pros of having players wait:
1) The players would be better served to have more time developing their game as starters in college, rather than sitting on the bench in the NBA or in many cases not even being drafted at all.
2) The players would be better served getting more of the education finished and being closer to a degree, especially if the NBA doesn’t work out.
3) The college game would be more entertaining and individual teams would have a lot more stability if players were staying around for 2-3 years. Those players could then spend more of their time finding ways to focus on the team aspect of the game, rather than inflating their statistics and highlight reels for NBA scouts.
4) Piggy-backing on #3, if players were more focused on developing the “team” concept in college, then they might be more team oriented in the NBA as well, which might improve the overall NBA game as well.
5) Too many players are jumping to the NBA before they are ready and often with disastrous effects of not being drafted or not getting guaranteed contracts. Why waste their college eligibility because they received some bad advice?
Cons of having players wait:
1) If a player has the talent and skills, why shouldn’t they be allowed to pursue their economic best interests? What other industries outside of the NBA and NFL force players to wait years after graduating high school to pursue their interests…
Counter-point: there are plenty of jobs that legally require college degrees to even enter the profession including teachers, engineers, doctors, etc…
2) If they let players go straight to the NBA who are ready (Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, etc) it might actually help the college game. Teams like the ones John Calipari builds would not be possible, which would provide for more parity in college basketball and make for more entertaining basketball.
3) Why not let players declare for the NBA draft and if they do not like where they are drafted they can return to college? If you decide to take a job interview with a prospective employer and decide afterwards that that company is not a good fit for you, does your university kick you out of your classes anyways?
It should be noted that the NFL requires players wait three years for safety reasons and has the full support of the player’s association. The players in the NFL are so strong and so fast that they would absolutely destroy an underdeveloped 18/19-year freshman, even if they have incredible natural talent. It is important for the development of the body to have those three years of weight training and practice to prepare themselves for the rigors of the NFL. Even with that said, the average NFL career of a player who makes an opening day roster is just 6 years. For starting running backs, who take some of the worst pounding of any position, their effective peak time is often just 3-4 years.
There is another factor at play when comparing the NFL to the NBA. In the NFL, there really are not many options for players who do not want to go to college or who do not get drafted in the NFL draft after their senior year. There is the Canadian Football League with its 8 teams. There is the Arena Football League. Occasionally other minor leagues come and go such as the World League, NFL Europe, the Continental Football League, and the USFL. But, realistically if a player doesn’t make an NFL roster, their football career is effectively finished. Even if they do find a spot on one of the existing alternative leagues, the pay is so low they can barely live off of it. So, college truly is the “minor league” of the NFL, where players can be adequately prepared for a professional career. Thus, it makes sense for those players to maximize their time in college so they have the best chance of making an NFL roster.
This is not so much the case with basketball. A player who does not make an NBA roster or who chooses not to play college basketball has lots of other options to pursue. There are dozens of international basketball leagues around the world where the pay is often very good. Those leagues vary in overall talent, but the EuroLeague and many of the teams in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, France, and Lithuania play basketball at a very high level and often produce some of the best players in the NBA. Even some of the minor leagues in far-flung countries like Belgium, Israel, the Philippines, and Korea can give a player with no real hope of making the NBA a very comfortable living.
In addition to the myriad of options outside of the United States, there is the National Basketball Development League. The NBDL, as the official farm system of the NBA, is a place where drafted players not ready for the NBA or aspiring undrafted players can play in front of NBA scouts and NBA hired coaches to prepare themselves for making the jump to “The Association”. So, the worries that one might have for the players jumping into the NBA draft too soon or even foregoing college altogether are not quite as concerning as it would be for the NFL.
Then there is the whole issue of players leaving for the NBA based solely on “potential” rather than anything they did in college. Seattle fans witnessed first hand too much focus on “potential” and not enough on proven abilities when the Supersonics went through their binge of drafting and signing centers who never turned into anything. The Robert Swift incident still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Sonic fans, even years after they left town. 1st round picks like Saer Sene, Johan Petro, and Vladimir Stepania, plus the signing of Jim McIlvaine didn’t help matters… Heck, they might even contributed to the reasons for the team leaving town.
But, how could the fortunes of the Sonics, Seattle sportsfans hair density, and Robert Swift’s own future have changed had he been required to attend USC (where he originally committed) for at least two years to develop his game, rather than get saddled with high expectations and lots of splinters from sitting on the bench in Seattle? What would the Huskies have been like with a 2nd year from Spencer Hawes or two years with Martell Webster? What would the Huskies look like next year if Tony Wroten had to return and he went through this past season knowing he was returning rather than always having the NBA draft in the back of his mind?
Fans of basketball have witnessed the gradual breakdown of fundamentals first in the NBA and now increasingly in college basketball, even with increasing athleticism. What could the sport be like with both? Would more time in a system result in better basketball.
Of course, these are questions we will never know. But, it is certainly worth having that conversation.
Would it be better for the college game if players had to stay two or even three years in college?
Would it be better for the college game to allow players to go straight to the NBA and skip college?
Would it be better to allow a player to declare for the draft, even be drafted, but still allow them to return to college if they change their minds?
Would it be better for the NBA game to have players wait until they are more ready to contribute right away and have the draft more about current skill than it is about “potential”?
The NBA is having that conversation right now and the decisions that they may will affect college basketball in general and the Huskies in particular…