It's been a while since I've written a fanpost; I avoided posting much after the firestorm from the BCS snub, and I guess I didn't really find the time to write one during the basketball season. I guess what better time to start again as both basketball and football are now over and we'll be craving things to talk about.
I hate to bring up the tired and old "one and done" problem again, and I am not trying here to necessarily make a knock-down case for or against the age requirement. However, I came across a Daily Texan column today that I felt was very confused, not just about the nature of the situation but also about basketball, and I feel compelled to point out the flaws in it. I'm not trying to rip up the columnist; he's not the first person to make such mistakes, and I don't question his passion for UT sports (I believe he may be one of the co-creators of the "45-35" facebook group), and I respect him for that. I will refrain from using his name. However, his arguments that pretty much claim that the rule has harmed college basketball and that we need to "revoke" the rule shows a very debatable view of college basketball as well as misunderstanding on who really has the power here.
First of all, let me try to summarize his article, titled simply, "One-year-of-college rule has reverse effect on thrill of NCAA basketball"). He mentions that George Mason's improbable run to the Final Four happened three years ago, the last year players could go straight from high school to the NBA. Since then, six No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds have made the semis, including four No. 1 seeds last season, the first time that had ever happened. This season, all the top 3 seeds in every bracket has made the Sweet 16 for the first time since the expansion to a 64-team tournament. All this, presumably, means NCAA basketball is cheapened a bit, and all this he blames on the rule. He says, "Everyone thought that the one-year-of-college rule would make college basketball more exciting, but in fact, I feel like it's done the opposite." After all, the players who are expected to gone after a year will undoubtedly go to "elite" programs, where, he says, "they will get closest to pro-treatment, essentially making these teams almost untouchable." Even 'Zona, a lower seed, is not quite the Cinderella we supposedly want because they have such NBA prospects like Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger.
He goes on to say, "The gap between the elite high school players and the college players around the country is so huge that the "regular" college players don't really have a shot to pull of an upset against guys who probably would have been in the NBA without the one-year-of-college rule." He admits the problem is difficult to solve, as such solutions as fining programs with one-and-dones would be difficult to do. But he ends with this:
So as college basketball fans, there are two ways to feel about this. If you go to Kansas, Memphis, or Duke, you can see these amazing high school players and pro prospects come to your school, sit in your classes, and play a season in your arena. If you go to a small school, then you just pray hard for an upset.
The other option is to revoke the one-year rule for the betterment of all of college basketball. (emphasis mine)
Either way, somebody loses.
Now, there are several things wrong with this column, and I'll address them below.
1. Who says college basketball is less exciting?
First, I want to address the assertion that it is less fun or exciting to watch college ball right now, although I will point out below that this point is actually ultimately irrelevant anyway. Believe me, I love a good upset (as long as it's not against the Horns). However, I don't get excited because of the mere fact that a Goliath fell to the proverbial David. I get excited about the play of basketball those situations. When those upsets happen, we get to see inspired play and teamwork, along with some luck, allow a lower ranked team to, for just one day, defeat an "elite" team and move on. We get to see that despite the talent disparity, teamwork and smart and sound basketball can still get you a win. I think, frankly, true basketball fans should think this way. Fans should get their thrills because of the inspired basketball we see, not just because Team A trips up powerhouse Team B. Imagine if all of Team B's starting players get injured within ten minutes of the game, and the whole game is a miserable display of turnovers, stupid fouling, and poor shooting, and Team A earns the win because Team B can't even put up a winning shot at the end because their player double-dribbles. According to the Daily Texan columnist's logic, this would count as "thrilling," because it is, after all, a big upset. As a fan of the sport itself, I would hardly call that a good display of basketball.
Furthermore, why should we buy the notion that thrills come from upsets? To be perfectly honest, while upsets are great fun and great things to talk about at the water cooler, I for one appreciate the elite clashes more. Texas and Kansas in last year's Big 12 tournament final was a great game. Kansas and Memphis in the final last year was an excellent game. One of the all-time memorable moments in college history, Christian Laettner's buzzer beater, was a classic game between Kentucky and Duke (no, I do not like Duke, but it was a memorable moment). Numerous other examples could be provided. All these games, to me, were very thrilling in their own right. I don't need an "upset" to get me excited about basketball. Even if we grant that the age requirement has made upsets more rare (which we don't have to), if it resulted in more shows that Kevin Durant displayed, then, well, people who love basketball may just appreciate the high level of play.
Besides, it is debatable if the age requirement is the main reason why we've seen the recent dominance of top seeds. Granted, last season was the first time all #1 seeds made the Final Four, but then again, it surely was bound to happen sometime, regardless of the rule. After all, many top players are not even freshmen. In addition, while he says, "It doesn't seem right that the upsets we want are just not happening this year," he admits that there was Cleveland St. over Wake Forest. How many upsets are we supposed to have to get what we "want"? That was a pretty significant one right there, with not a few people picking Wake Forest to even go to the Final Four.
Therefore, I really don't see his logic in contending that this has been the cause for the lack of upsets. Even if we do agree that it is a major cause, that doesn't necessarily mean college basketball is diminished.
2. Good for the players, perhaps?
To address top players who are not freshmen, such as Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, Earl Clark, and Gerald Henderson, he contends that if it had not been for the rule, "these guys most certainly would have been tempted to go pro. Going to college made them realize where they really stood and compelled them to stay one or two more years."
Even if this is true, doesn't this seem better for these players? Let's look at Kevin Durant. Durant certainly could have gone pro before college, but he was not as hyped a player as other people in his class, particularly Oden. Coming to Texas, he made himself a lock to be one of the top 2 picks in the draft, a status he would not have had coming straight from high school. Durant not only seemed better prepared for the NBA, he made a heck of a lot more money waiting a year. If the players listed above found out in college that a year or two more would greatly help their preparation and draft stock, then all the better for them. It's good they didn't go early. Are we to take this option of trying out college to test their skills simply because of some vague reasons why we think it's bad for college basketball? Sorry, that makes no sense.
3. In the end, this is all irrelevant... only the NBA's opinion is.
I have wasted your reading time with the above stuff, because I was bored, when it actually ultimately doesn't matter. To repeat what the columnist ended with, he claims, "The other option is to revoke the one-year rule for the betterment of all of college basketball." I am assuming he's talking about the NCAA, because he doesn't say a peep about the NBA. This shows great confusion on the issue, and it's an oft-repeated mistake I pointed out last summer on BON. The fact of the matter is, it is not the NCAA's rule, and they can do nothing about the matter. It's the NBA's rule, and if somebody is going to change it, it's them.
Let's grant, for the sake of argument, that the one-year rule is bad for players, bad for upsets, and therefore, bad for college basketball. How, exactly, is this going to change the NBA's opinion on the matter? The NBA instituted this rule for the betterment of the NBA, not for the NCAA. The NBA, alarmed with how much time and resources teams were spending desperately trying to scout and draft the next Lebron or Kobe, instituted the rule to preserve higher level play. To be honest, they're doing just fine; despite the constant whining about the officiating, the NBA is second most popular league behind the NFL. After all, only Lebron made an immediate and large impact as an 18 year old; neither Kobe, KG, or T-mac made such an impact. They did not become perennial All-Stars until one, two, or three years down the line. I watch the NBA too, and I will confirm that the level of competition has been particularly fierce over the past few seasons. Because of the one year rule? Maybe not. Then again, since the league is doing just fine and getting the opportunity to further evaluate players for a year in college, they have zero reason to change the rule. To argue that the one-and-done situation is bad for college basketball is not only debatable, it's pretty much a waste of space. It doesn't address who really is in power, and that's the NBA.
There's really nothing for the NCAA to do. They can't punish programs for recruiting these kids, they can't punish programs if these kids go early, and they can't force the kids to stay in school. None of these options are remotely reasonable or practical. Thus, if you want the rule changed, you're going to have to appeal to the NBA, and somebody is going to have to convince them that this is bad for their level of basketball and, therefore, bad for their bottom line. Anything else is just confusion.
Sports columnist, either from obscure school newspapers or well-named ones, would do well to stop and think about whom they're writing to.