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The One and Done: Should the NBA Change It? Why?

With three of our top players declaring for the draft (although I would be surprised if Joseph didn't return), the optimism for the basketball season took a huge blow.  It probably makes it worse that we were knocked out of the NCAA tournament because a referee had trouble counting to five, leaving us with an empty feeling of an unfinished mission.  The departure of these players, especially Thompson, has reopened the discussion around here on early exits to the NBA draft, particularly the so-called "one and done" phenomenon.  It has obviously been a source of debate and controversy ever since the NBA put the age limit in place, and you will find plenty of college basketball fans who despise the rule for a variety of reasons.

However, I have normally found the a lot of the popular arguments against the age limit confused.  I addressed this topic a few years ago, and I pointed out that getting angry at the NCAA fails to appreciate who has the power here:  The NBA is the one who decides the age limit, and the NCAA can't do anything about it.  Thus, arguments that basically say, "The NCAA needs to do something" and "This is bad for college basketball" are not only questionable to begin with, they don't tell us why the NBA should care if it's not hurting their league.  Another example of these unconvincing arguments comes from this article by Pat Forde, where he rails against the age limit because it supposedly screwed over Josh Selby of Kansas.  In essence, Forde argues that the "one and done" situation is a sham that forces players to spend a year in school that wastes their time, wastes the school's time and resources, and endangers these talented players' futures in the NBA,

I do not mind Pat Forde, but I found the article pretty suspect in its arguments, and I will primarily be interacting with what he wrote in this post.  In doing so, I hope to address some questions surrounding the one and done, get some discussion going about it, and also argue this:  The age limit rule is perfectly within the NBA's rights, it doesn't always wastes the time of schools and players, and it doesn't endanger these players' future careers.

To summarize Selby's story, Selby was a highly touted prospect who suffered through eligibility issues and injuries last year at Kansas.  He has decided to enter the NBA draft and may be drafted far lower than he otherwise would have been if he came out as a high school senior.  This is the emotional driving point of Forde's article.

To start, while I am sympathetic to Selby, as most people probably are, it is a bit dangerous to take one anecdote and universalize it.  After all, we can sit here and list a host of players who came straight out of high school and were destroyed by their lack of readiness or otherwise never developed into great stars.  Kwame Brown, for instance, had legitimate talent but never got it together mentally.  Should we parade him around as the poster child of the dangers of coming straight out of high school?  Even the myriad of successful players straight out of high school, such as Kobe, KG, McGrady, and Amare, did not make large impacts their first couple of years.  The only player who really came in and played at a high level consistently from the get-go was Lebron James.

In addition, I am frankly unsure why the age limit should be blamed for Selby struggling to qualify for Kansas.  The NBA's job isn't to be a safety net for kids who don't have good grades; it's to present a high level of basketball to the public (and they have; these playoffs have been good and look to get better past the first round).  I do not know why Selby had trouble qualifying and I will not speculate, and it seems like he had a very rough childhood.  However, it's just not the NBA's responsibility to know if high schoolers are meeting college minimum requirements.  The fact that he had eligibility issues from the very beginning may say a whole lot more about college recruiting than it does about the NBA's age rule.  Who, by the way, forced the Jayhawks to offer a scholarship to Selby?  They no doubt knew the issues going in and were willing to deal with them.

Forde also argues that the fact Selby was there and was able to finish devalues KU's academics:

Selby's failure to finish the spring semester should theoretically hurt the program's Academic Progress Rating, but Self was quoted as saying at the time of Selby's announcement that he "worked with his professors to complete his work for the second semester."

If that's true -- that a borderline student out of high school was able to finish his semester's work weeks ahead of time without attending class -- then every degree the school has ever granted has been cheapened. But that's just part of what makes the Selby story a sorry one.

Maybe so, but is this really unique to Selby?  Does Forde provide the slightest bit of evidence that only one-and-done athletes struggle academically and have to be helped in this manner?  And if all this is true, again I ask:  Who forced KU to take in Selby?  If Kansas wanted to protect their academic perception, they easily could have passed on Selby.  They didn't, so any damage to their reputation, real or imagined, falls squarely on their shoulders (and I am not arguing that they actually did damage anything).  Colleges offer borderline athletes all the time, some of who are not able to go to the NBA straight out of high school.  Again, this seems to say more about college athletics than the NBA.

Self said the so-called one-and-done rule is "a bad rule." Like most other logical basketball people, he'd prefer a set-up similar to the baseball rules, which allow players to sign pro contracts out of high school -- but if they go to college, they're committed for three seasons.

This doesn't sound like a bad idea at face value, but I am not sure if it is justifiable.  First of all, there are plenty of "logical" basketball people who disagree.  Secondly, why does it have to be like baseball?  I am not sure why the MLB set up the rules this way, but baseball is very different from basketball.  Basketball does not have a farm system, and physical development is far more important for basketball than baseball because it is a contact sport that puts more value on athleticism.  Furthermore, what about those players who aren't ready to go right after high school but are ready after one or two years?  I don't think many people will argue that Thompson benefited greatly from one year in college.  Heck, even Durant benefited from his lone year at Texas, becoming a superstar and guaranteeing himself one of the top two spots in the draft.  As much as I would have loved to see more years of KD in burnt orange, how is it more fair to force such players to stay even longer when they are ready to go after one or two seasons?  What if they suffer injuries along the way?  If that happens, then Forde's argument just backfires.

Forde does bring up a possible farm system here:

I'd take the baseball analogy a step further: The NBA needs to make its Developmental League a truly viable and encouraged option -- a real minor league like baseball has -- for teenagers who want to play pro ball but don't want to go to college. The NBA owes that much to all interested parties.

WHY does the NBA owe this?  It doesn't sound like a bad idea, but again, what would compel the NBA to do this?  It is my belief that they instituted the age limit to protect the quality of their game and to stop the tide of franchises desperately searching for the next Lebron James and taking huge risks on 18 year olds.  By treating the D-league as just a farm system, that still doesn't address the fact that many high schoolers will enter the draft--some of who may not be ready--and that many a stupid GM will spend a high pick on them only to dump them into the D-league.  Keep in mind that there are only two rounds in the NBA draft and it is absolutely nothing like the baseball draft, and draft picks carry MUCH more value in the NBA.  In other words, the NBA has a lot more incentive to protect the value of their draft, so even with the existence of the D-league the age limit may make sense.

Forde closes with this curious demand:

Spare the schools from enabling a sham that makes a mockery of education. Spare the franchises from babysitting unprepared and/or immature teenagers. And spare the fans from being force-fed the big lie.

Let me ask a simple question:  Did one-and-dones exist before the age rule?  Of course.  Carmello Anthony is the most easily recognized example.  I am unsure why writers persist to pretend that the one-and-done is a new phenomenon.  Where was the great public fury then?  The age rule is not "enabling" these schools to do anything they weren't already doing.  I have no idea where Forde is even pulling this from.

In addition, this stuff about sparing franchises from babysitting teenagers is absolutely perplexing considering his article was arguing for the removal of the age limit.  If the NBA does not want franchises babysitting immature teenagers, they sure as heck aren't going to let kids straight out of high school come into the league.  If Forde really wants this, then he will be in favor of a stricter age limit, one that requires players to be 20 (David Stern's preference) or 21.  Of course, then this whole story about Selby kind of falls short of its intended goal because Forde was contending that the NBA screwed him over for not allowing him to come at 18.  If they don't want to "babysit," why would they want an 18 year old Selby?

I am not sure what "lie" Forde thinks we are being "force-fed," but I know full well that players may leave early.  I knew this before the age minimum and I know this now.  Am I disappointed, as a Horns fan, that Thompson is leaving early?  Sure.  However, I am also happy for him and wish him the best, and I'm glad he got to improve at the 40 acres.  I think even those who question if Thompson is ready right now would admit that he would definitely be ready after next season.  Why would the NBA force him to stay?  Why would they want to miss out on a talent like him, and how would that be fair to him if he suffered a major injury his junior year? 

What happened to Selby stinks, but it's hardly the NBA's fault as Forde thinks.  He fails to think about the myriad of players who want to go to college for a variety of personal reasons:  Maybe they just want to experience college for a year or two, maybe they want to develop their game, maybe it has been a personal dream to play for X school, etc.  He's telling them, with his proposed rule, that if they make that decision to go to school, they have to stay there for three years even if they are ready to go.  I am not comfortable with this because I don't see how this is more fair to these players.  Besides, as I have hinted, it says absolutely nothing about its profitability to the NBA.

As a Horns fan, I know we've been hit with some bad luck with early departures (Ford, Aldridge, Durant, Augustin, and now TT and Hamilton).  However, I will not blame anyone for that, because most of those players were ready to go.  I'm happy we had TT and KD for a year, and I don't think their tenures at Texas were "shams" at all; I proudly consider them part of our school's athletic tradition now.  It was not a waste of our school's resources to provide a place for them to get some education and also develop their game.  It was not a waste of their time, as Durant has made clear that he loves Texas.  And it was not a waste of our time, because watching KD play will remain among my fondest basketball memories.

Forde's sympathy for Selby is noted, but his anger is misplaced.  That is not a story to use to attack the age rule.

In any case, I'll turn it to the community.  Do you like the age minimum?  If not, what do you think would be a reasonable and justifiable solution to this?