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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Opinion: NBA eligibility rules need to change

Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Amar’e Stoudemire.

In addition to being stars in the NBA, these players have another thing in common: They were drafted straight out of high school, something not possible today with the NBAs new eligibility requirements.

The rules for eligibility to enter the NBA draft have changed over the years, partially due to the Seattle SuperSonics and hall-of-famer Spencer Haywood back in the early ‘70s. During that time, you had to be four years removed from your high school graduation to be drafted.

Haywood signed with Seattle just three years from his graduation. After receiving threats to void his contract from the NBA, Haywood sued the league on antitrust grounds. He won his case in the Supreme Court with a vote of 7-2.

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After that decision, high schoolers were allowed into the draft, and college underclassmen were allowed to leave college early. However, not many players actually declared out of high school until Kevin Garnett did in 1995.

Following that, the floodgates opened: Many future perennial All-Stars flooded the league over the next 10 years. When it was time for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), they agreed on a new set of rules that represent the current restrictions: A player must be 19 years old to be drafted, and one year removed from high school.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

This has created the current “one-and-done” landscape in college basketball: Talented players who go to college for one year, and then immediately leave for the draft. For some famous programs such as the University of Kentucky, this rule has been used almost to abuse, recruiting top prospects year after year, with most leaving right away.

Almost no one benefits from this system.

College basketball loses under these rules. It hurts the integrity and amateurism of collegiate sports that has defined it throughout its history. Top school programs are essentially one-and-done NBA mills, grabbing up and churning out prospects for the NBA.

For players who are ready and able, and whose families are financially strapped, spending a year in college is a year where they can’t maintain financial stability.

In addition, a year spent in college is a year they are susceptible to catastrophic injury. This would prevent them from ever being able to provide for their family in the way the NBA would allow them to.

Even the NBA doesn’t really benefit much. One major reason the NBA did this was to protect franchises from making draft mistakes that hurt the team, selecting enticing high school players who end up not being ready.

However, Tom Ziller of SB Nation performed an analysis of the success rate of top-10 picks and found very little difference before and after the rule change.

It seems, then, the only difference is that now, these one-and-done’s are more marketed while in college, and therefore easier to profit off once they hit the NBA.

The NBA must change its policy; this much is clear. I think the NBA should follow the MLB’s lead on this. Current MLB policy is high schoolers must either be drafted before attending college, or spend three years at a college before getting drafted.

I think this is a best of both worlds scenario for all those involved. Of course, there is no perfect solution. It just isn’t feasible with this many stakeholders. However, the NBA must consider what does the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

For the NBA, the one-and-done system hasn’t accomplished its goals statistically. For something they gain so little from, and hurts the sport and players so much, there isn’t a reason to keep this policy. In honor of the game, it needs to change.

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