Last night, after all was said and done in the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament, Head Coach Bo Ryan of Wisconsin was a bit salty about the way that Duke had structured its team around a group of one-and-done players:
All the seniors that I’ve had — hard to say the word. But every player that’s played through the program, okay, we don’t do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year guy. That’s okay. If other people do that, that’s okay. I like trying to build from within. It’s just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back.”
You could easily write off Ryan’s comments as those coming from a sore loser, or more gently, as coming from someone who was bitterly disappointed about losing a hard-fought game that came down to the last minute or so to be decided. Or, you could take it as Ryan making a statement about his philosophy towards team building: to bring in players who aren’t making a pit-stop in college on the way to the NBA and develop them into a top-notch squad capable of beating anyone in the country once they mature and have solidified their skills under his tutelage.
I prefer to take the latter. Sure, Ryan’s comments were ill-timed, and the truth is, his own school did pretty well “renting” QB Russell Wilson as a fifth year senior who wanted to play one more year of college football before going to the NFL. But that doesn’t take away from his larger point that the college basketball is a bit skewed at the moment towards schools that attract players that are stuck in limbo between high school and their true aim, which is to play hoops for money in the NBA. Kentucky, Duke and other “blue-blood” programs are usually the preferred stops for those young men, as they are the marquee teams with the most exposure that will best showcase their talents and enhance their draft stock. Rarely do they take college seriously.
The current NBA rules state that a player who wants to the NBA must be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school. Otherwise, those players are not eligible to enter their names into the annual NBA Draft. They ostensibly could play in Europe or in the NBA’s Development League, which is essentially an ignored minor league comprised mostly of players whose talents are good enough for the big show. Those players toil in obscurity and poverty compared to the ones who take the pit stop in college route, and for many, playing in Europe may as well be Mars, so it’s an easy choice to go to college, train in multimillion dollar facilities built out of booster donations and pretend to pursue a degree for a semester and then leave as soon as the current NBA rules allow.
There’s a better way. Major League Baseball and its players’ union, the MLBPA perfected it a long time ago. Instead of the one-and-done rule, young baseball players have two options:
Certain groups of players are ineligible for selection, generally because they are still in school. The basic categories of players eligible to be drafted are:
- High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
- College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
- Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed
A Club generally retains the rights to sign a selected player until 11:59 PM (EDT) August 15, or until the player enters, or returns to, a four-year college on a full-time basis. A player who is drafted and does not sign with the Club that selected him may be drafted again at a future year’s Draft, so long as the player is eligible for that year’s Draft. A Club may not select a player again in a subsequent year, unless the player has consented to the re-selection.
That allows the most talented prep players to enter into the professional ranks immediately, but if they decide to attend a four year university, they have to wait until after their junior year to partake in the next Major League Baseball draft.
The latter option has given great stability to the college edition of baseball, and it has helped the game grow and gain traction in a busy sports landscape. The NCAA playoffs and College World Series used to be a minor afterthought even amongst most diehard baseball fans, but these days, it has become more and more compelling even to casual fans who don’t follow the regular season. The rising interest in college baseball has also drawn booster interest, and many schools have been able to afford new facilities based on increased donations.
Basketball could do the same using the same rules, and it would introduce more stability into the game. Sure, the Jahlil Okafors and Karl Towns of the prep ranks would skip college and go straight to the Association, but there would be more players like Montrezl Harrell, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker types that developed into top draft picks after a few years of college. It would allow for more teams like Wisconsin and, yes, NC State to develop their youth into potential Final Four teams that could win the national title just as easily as a Duke, a Kentucky or a Kansas. And the programs that best develop their talent could reach that upper tier of the game more regularly.
That rising tide would lift all boats, enhance the college game and make it even more compelling than it already is. It would also help the NBA, as more experienced and more solid players would be available for the draft. And it could well happen, as the NBA and NBAPA are moving ever-closer to changing its rules:
Dan Rube, NBA Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel said that ending the one-and-done rule would allow teams better decisions with draft pics and better analysis of talent. He added that the NBA believes getting rid of the one-and-done rule is in the interest of both the NBA and the NBPA.
Ron Klempner, Acting Executive Director of NBA Players Association, said the death of the one-and-done rule is a “strong possibility.” He added that it would “have to work both ways” in order for a more restrictive rule to be put in place. Klempner suggested that the NBA, NBPA and NCAA come up with system to put one-and-done aside.
Hopefully, instead of a two-year rule, as many think will come to pass, they will go the best route and choose the best system that’s already proven to work well for all parties. That would be baseball’s rules.