The future of college basketball always has been in doubt. Early on, the game was deemed too slow to survive. Later, a series of point-shaving scandals threatened its existence. It has had to overcome greased palms and coaches who break rules more often than the cheat who peeks at cards in Clue.
And somehow it has survived. Thrived, even. The recent men’s Final Four included a blueblood (Kansas), a football — ahem — school (Michigan), a new-era offense (Villanova) and a Cinderella (Loyola).
Yet cracks remain. Or maybe canyons? That’s how the glass-half-empty crowd sees it.
The latest manifestation of doom centers on dishonest coaches, unscrupulous agents, AAU dictatorship and shoe company skullduggery. In other words, human nature. Good luck legislating against that.
Oh, and the one-and-done rule, too. Maybe especially the one-and-done rule, a creation of the NBA that mandates a college player must be at least 19 and one year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible, resulting in recruits spending only one year in college before bolting for the pros.
The Commission on College Basketball spent the past few months coming up with ways to keep the game from going off the cliff. On Wednesday, it revealed its findings and recommendations for change.
Chief among the calls for reform is that the NBA should abolish the one-and-done rule. Granted, I’m not big on colleges renting recruits for one year. But is one-and-done the ruination of college basketball? I don’t think so.
Let’s take a look at one-and-done as it relates to the law of unintended consequences. First, however, we need to clear up some misconceptions. The commission stressed that cheating increased when the age-limit rule was implemented for the 2006-07 season. The evidence simply does not support that assertion.
The commission also suggested that player payments mostly target one-and-done prospects. Again, the evidence is not there. To the contrary, in documents seized by the FBI from an agency office that were reported to Yahoo Sports in February, nine of the 15 players who allegedly received payments were multiyear college players.
That does not mean the one-and-done rule is harmless. It creates a situation in which the player is looking ahead to NBA riches even as he attempts to remain focused on the college task at hand. Again, human nature at work. How invested can a player be when the NBA is an inch from his face?
Second, what happened to being able to ply your trade right out of high school? Don’t tell me the NBA really worries about players being too young to succeed. Look around. LeBron. Kobe. Kevin Garnett. Sure, there are some guys too immature to make it, but as ESPN college basketball analyst Dan Dakich put it, “Let’s say a kid makes a mistake coming straight out of high school. It’s not anyone’s job to legislate stupidity out of the world.”
If the NBA does not rescind its age rule — ESPN reported the earliest that change would happen would be 2020 — the commission insisted it will address the issue anyway, possibly by locking a scholarship for three or four years if the athlete leaves after one season, or by making freshmen ineligible.
This is where those unintended consequences come into play. If college parity is the goal, then requiring college players to remain in school for more than one year could actually benefit elite programs that already land the top recruits. Imagine if Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari get to keep their five-star talent for two or three seasons? Goodbye to teams like Loyola making the Final Four.
“Can you imagine if Kentucky has some of these dudes for three years? Careful what you wish for,” Dakich said.
And careful how you legislate. The commission has good intentions, and some of its recommendations could be valuable, but let’s not act like the sky is falling.