The Big O on the draft

As far as the NBA draft goes, this year marks the beginning of the era of “one and done”: high-school graduates can no longer place their names in the hat until they turn 19, which generally means one year of college before jumping to the ostensible Big Time, a major change from the thirty-year-old Oscar Robertson Rule which stripped away most draft restrictions.

Robertson himself has misgivings about “one and done,” but perhaps not the ones you’d think:

For every LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, there are hundreds of other teenage athletes who have been mistakenly led to believe they’re ready for the NBA. Once they enter the draft and find out they’re wrong, it’s too late: they’re not allowed to attend or return to college on an athletic scholarship.

In no other line of work is someone penalized for leaving or delaying school and returning later. Besides, college coaches — who can make millions of dollars — negotiate with other colleges, or with NBA teams, all the time. They don’t forfeit their employment if they decide to stay put.

Athletic scholarships should be guaranteed for four years, instead of renewable year to year by the college. College athletes should also receive a modest stipend and more realistic expense money. If athletes have to struggle to get by, of course they will want to turn pro as soon as possible. They’re also more likely to accept money from agents who want to sign them, although agents aren’t the only people who slip money to college athletes. (Signing with an agent makes players ineligible for the college game, whether or not money has changed hands — but coaches are allowed to collect fees for referring agents to players!)

The NBA and the NCAA have brilliant people working in management. Certainly they can come up with a better system than “one and done” that is equitable for the colleges and the athletes, gives athletes an incentive to stay in school and reinforces the value of education.

And maybe the NBA, which has an obvious interest in this sort of thing, can kick in some of those scholarship dollars along the way.

(Noticed by Henry Abbott.)

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