Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, has written to NBA Commissioner David Stern protesting the so-called “19-plus-1” rule, which requires that NBA players be at least nineteen years old and one year past high-school graduation. Says Cohen [pdf], the rule has proved to be of little or no benefit:
I firmly believe in the value of a college education, but I do not believe that the 19 plus 1 policy has benefited those students who briefly attend college solely because they are not permitted to join the NBA. Instead, a “one-and-done” system has developed, whereby athletes attend college only for the mandatory year and then join the NBA as soon as they are eligible. This system does far more to serve the financial interests of the universities at which the students play than the educational interests of the students themselves.
In a conversation with a reporter from The New York Times, Cohen got a tad less reserved:
“It’s a vestige of slavery,” Cohen said Wednesday in a phone interview, noting that most of the players affected by the rule are African-American. “Not like the slavery of 150 years ago, but it’s a restraint on a person’s freedoms and liberties.”
The NBA draft mechanism itself may contribute to Cohen’s woes, since there are only two rounds, in which sixty players are selected; hundreds of players are competing to be among those sixty, and if a kid thinks he might make it into the first round, which means a million-dollar salary if he’s signed, he has plenty of incentive to blow off the rest of his college career.
Although I don’t think you can accuse Cohen of being a starry-eyed idealist like the rulemakers at the NCAA. Noting that constituent Thaddeus Young, a star at Georgia Tech, was also affected by the rule, Cohen said:
“He could have gone straight to the pros. I don’t think he’s going to be an engineer. It’s just kind of a mockery.”
David Stern, on the other hand, has been pushing for an age limit of 20 for several years now.