Long Live the NBA Age Limit


Jul 13, 2009

Most people’s initial, gut reaction is that the NBA’s current age
limit is bad for college basketball. But is this really the case?

Beginning in 2006, the NBA instituted a new age limit, which
stipulates that in order to be eligible for the NBA draft, players from
the United States must be at least 19 years old (before the end of that
draft’s calendar year) and one year removed from high school.

put this rule in place to force college basketball into acting as a
sort-of minor league system. Big time players also receive additional
media coverage during their college year(s), which further helps to aid
the NBA’s cause, creating buzz around the league that otherwise would
not have occurred.

The NBA can do whatever it wants and the NCAA basically has to deal
with it. College coaches get paid to win. So, whether they like it or
not, many college coaches feel they need to recruit these
“one-and-done” players in order to be successful. The NBA is certainly
better off by increasing the age limit, because they are receiving free
coaching and marketing by the NCAA.  But what about the NCAA?  Is
college basketball better or worse off because of the NBA’s age limit?

When it comes to college in general, there is no question that
one-and-done athletes make a mockery of the college system. But let’s
face it: semi-student athletes have always existed and never ruined the
idea of college. Did Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV squads
make you reconsider the value of college? What about the University of
Miami’s football program? How about the laundry list of college
players, like Chris Webber and Reggie Bush,
who reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars while still
playing ball at school? If none of these actions diminished the value
you place on a college education, then one-and-done college basketball
players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose won’t either.

The question here is what effect the NBA’s age limit has on college
basketball, not college academics. The fact is, all things considered,
this age limit is good for college basketball. The sport is better off
than it was a few years ago. Now, all the best players go to college.
Sure, their stays may be brief, but that’s still better than nothing.

Yes, there are negatives. First, as stated above, one-and-done
players make a mockery of the college system, especially in terms of
recruiting. Also, since the top players don’t stay around for too long,
we don’t get to see teams grow together. This also makes it that much
more difficult for dynasties to form. On the other hand, players have
been leaving school early for a long time, and there hasn’t been a
college dynasty since Duke, who went to seven Final Fours and won two
national championships between 1986 and 1994. These drawbacks are
valid, but the positives simply outweigh them.

Imagine what it would have been like if Kobe Bryant had decided to attend Duke or LeBron James
stayed in-state and went to Ohio State for a year. Even one year would
have been something special. It only took one season for Durant to
dominate the Big 12, a feat some said would never be duplicated. Then,
one year later, freshman phenom Michael Beasley outdid Durant’s stats. Then came Bake Griffin.

This is what the college game has been missing for the past decade.
A few years ago, one of the knocks on college ball was that the best
young players in the game no longer went to college.  With the best
players in the country turning pro right out of high school, the
college game missed out on many would-be superstars. By basically
forcing players to go to college, the NBA’s age limit has helped
re-establish the college superstar. In turn, this has helped quiet the
critics’ complaints while bringing back fans enticed by big names.

Let’s also remember that most of these high school megastars go to
big-time college programs.  It’s not as if the University of Texas’
basketball program began and ended with Durant. In many cases, great
one-and-done players are replaced by players almost as good, if not
better. For instance, two years ago Memphis saw point guard Derrick Rose dazzle for one season. The very next year, they witnessed one-year wonder Tyreke Evans perform at a similar level.

The consensus among college coaches seems to be in favor of the NBA
adopting a rule that players must be two years removed from high school
before they are eligible for the NBA draft.  That would be terrific for
college basketball. However, as of right now, college coaches will have
to settle for recruiting players they know will only be around for one
year. This no doubt drives some coaches crazy, but it ultimately helps
the college game. The all-world high school players have returned to
college ball. So what if they are only there for a year? There’s always
next year’s treasure chest, full of bigger, perhaps better players
waiting to fill their spots.

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