The very polarizing Age Restriction Rule that David Stern and the NBA employed several years ago is great, not only for young athletes, but also the NCAA itself, and it would be a huge mistake to change things back to the way they were.
Many talking heads argue that forcing players to go to college, a choice usually favored to the alternative (a year in Europe a la Brandon Jennings or the NBA’s Developmental League), only puts an unnecessary yearlong moratorium on the inevitable move to the professional level.
Well, those who believe that idea are very wrong. The rule is necessary and incredibly beneficial to all parties involved.
In terms of the NCAA, with the current age limit rule in place, programs have the opportunity to offer scholarships to great players that would normally bypass college and enter the professional ranks. Imagine LeBron James in Tar Heel powder blue or Kobe Bryant posting up in Rupp Arena.
A program can gain more exposure with players who are forced to attend at least one year of college like, say, John Wall and Michael Beasley, even if the players only stay for that year (which can only do good things for recruiting). Also, as the presence of such talent vastly improves the school’s chances for success, they stand to make even more money, which is another plus.
Money, as in most things in life, is important because it goes towards building and maintaining a successful college basketball program. And the schools that reach the Final Four stand to make a lot of it.
The schools are rumored to front a big chunk of money for a mandatory Final Four party that costs around $32,000 and for hotel rooms for fans and the players. However, the money they receive on the back end from TV revenue, merchandise sales and contributions from alumni who have confidence in their programs more than likely make up for what they must dish out.
But if you once again allow high school athletes to bypass the NCAA, the pool of players that colleges can pick from diminishes, which will reduce the amount of teams that have a legitimate shot to make a splash in the NCAA tournament and do well for their schools and conferences.
In terms of the athletes themselves, the experience that the majority of young basketball players garner in college is essential to their future success.
One year of college can do a lot for a burgeoning basketball talent. Two of the top young players in the NBA, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, can attest to that, as their No. 1 overall selections likely would not have occurred if they had entered the draft straight from high school.
Granted, there are exceptions to this rule. LeBron James, for one, was probably ready for the NBA after grammar school. Kobe Bryant was such an incredible talent that a year or two of college basketball likely wouldn’t have better prepared him for the professional level.
But those are arguably two of the best players ever to step on a basketball court. There are certainly a lot more Kwame Browns and Leon Smiths than LeBron James.
Aside from what players learn and how they can improve on the court, a year of college experience allows young athletes to mature before reaching the confusing and pressure-filled lifestyle of a celebrity.
Everyone should agree that avoiding situations like the one that befell Leon Smith, who was drafted out of high school in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, would be best. After failing to achieve any type of success with the Spurs and then the Dallas Mavericks, Smith tried to commit suicide, obviously succumbing to the pressures forced upon him by the NBA.
College programs are filled with people ready to impart advice about how to handle life as a public figure. Kids are also able to take finance classes in order to learn how to manage their money once they become high-paid athletes.
These are essential skills for a young player to have a successful career on and off the court.
Recently, the NBA has instituted a new program for rookies called the Rookie Transition Program. The program consists of a six-day crash course dedicated to teaching the incoming athletes the ins-and-outs of life as a professional basketball player.
There are mandatory courses offered, among a spate of other subjects, in finance, character building and media training that the rookies can take. But are six days enough for players to fully grasp their new lifestyles?
Let the debate ensue. However, it seems that a year of basketball-ability and character-driven maturation, under the guidance of knowledgeable head coaches and other university officials, likely better serves the athletes.
In an interview last week, Kentucky head coach John Calipari explained that he gives a speech to all of his players who decide to make the jump to the NBA. He explained that he sits each one of them down and gives them the “money” talk, which includes a demand that they save the very first million they make, no matter what, in place of buying inane material possessions.
As simple as the plan may sound, it’s possible that these athletes may have not thought of such an idea, and it’s that type of guidance the young players who stand to face these inscrutable pressures absolutely need.