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April 22, 2014

Basketball stars may linger on campus a while longer

Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the National Basketball Association, scored a public relations victory when he came out in strong support of raising the league’s minimum age to 20 years old – a move that would have talented collegians spending at least two years on campus before heading off to the pros.

If adopted – and a change is probably forthcoming – it will end the “one-and-done” era of players who dipped a toe in college basketball before opting for the big pay and prestige of the NBA.

That could be a good or bad thing, depending on who you are.

College administrators and coaches would celebrate. Owners of pro teams would see it as a strategic business move. Those select older teenagers with the ability to score bundles of points might see it as a roadblock to going to work and realizing instant wealth.

The argument over drafting 19 year olds isn’t new. What’s changed is that Silver wants the league to reconsider the position hammered out with the NBA Players Association in 2005.

This is a strange time for basketball fans who watch players come fresh out of high school to help their college teams advance in the NCAA tournament. Those fans must then sit around and stew, wondering if there will be a repeat performance the next year.

Some collegians declare for the NBA draft before fans can say, "But we hardly got to know you," as visions of championship banners evaporate before their eyes.

Even Kentucky’s John Calipari, who has churned out 13 one-and-dones dating back to his days in Memphis, said the system isn’t a good one. It robs young players of a chance to taste life before falling into a work regimen that lasts a lifetime.

A friend who experienced basketball at all levels once said to me, “High school was for fun. College basketball became a job. The pros were all business.”

Calipari seconded the point during the recent NCAA tournament: "Enjoy the college experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work."

Jabari Parker, the star freshman at Duke, will likely be the No. 1 selection in this summer’s NBA draft. He’s a proven talent. The question is whether he's ready to become president and chairman of the board of Jabari Parker Inc. Sure, he can score inside and out. But can he run his own business, day in and day out?

A review of how most pro athletes handle their money suggests not. Wouldn’t it make more sense for gifted student athletes to be offered classes and experiences to help them manage the assets they'll acquire? There’s nothing worse than seeing a former pro whose playing days are over and whose wealth is gone.

Of course, some argue that players' right to seek gainful employment, even if they're still in high school, is being infringed. That's also true. History has shown there are some young players who’ve only had a driver’s license for a year or two, and who are good enough to play with the men.

Maybe there should be a baseball-type exemption that allows them to be drafted, even if they need a year or two in a developmental league. That’s what the NBA would like to see – an expanded minor league where the number of teams would increase, as would the minimal salaries the players currently receive.

Nothing will happen, however, until the NBA Players Association names a new president. That’s when the negotiating and trading will begin.

No changes are imminent, and they may not be until the existing contract expires in 2017.

Even when something happens, college basketball won’t return to the day when most star players spent four years in school, pursuing a degree as well as a professional contract. Maybe in years to come they’ll get to develop their skills and become savvy enough to handle their good fortune.

We could call them one-and-then-some players.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

 

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