Columnists, Sports

Driving The Lane: Age Restrictions

University of Kentucky rookie phenom Nerlens Noel’s recent ACL tear has sparked a debate over when a player should be allowed to declare for the NBA Draft. Currently, the NBA’s age minimum is 19 years, which equates to one year out of high school. Noel, who almost certainly would have been the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft had the injury not occurred, will likely see his draft stock fall. This also means he will lose millions of dollars on his first contract.

If Noel was able to enter the draft right out of high school, he still would not have gone number one, due to the likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As long as his draft stock doesn’t slip too much because of the injury, it may be a wash. But if being forced to go to college loses him even one penny, it’s valid to ask the following question. Should basketball players be allowed to declare for the NBA Draft right out of high school?

I emphatically say yes. I don’t really care if Nerlens Noel loses a little bit of money. He’ll be fine. But forcing players to go to college for just one year makes an absolute mockery of the concept of a student athlete. There are a number of players each year who go to high-class institutions only to play basketball and get ready for the next year’s NBA draft. These athletes are only playing college ball because NBA regulations don’t give them a choice.

Do you honestly think they give a rat’s ass about their classes and schoolwork? Do you think that while Anthony Davis was sitting in Sweathogs 101 he was thinking, “Hmm, I wonder if this will be on the midterm?” No! He was thinking, “It was sick when I swatted that kid’s shot last night,” and “I wonder how many millions of dollars I’m going to make next year.” I’m in no way trying to fault Anthony Davis. I’m blaming the system. Since players are forced to go to college, you get all these bogus oceanography and geography majors who have no actual intentions to ever use their degrees.

When I told my friend this opinion, he said, “Well can you really expect an 18-year-old kid to make a logical decision when you’re waving millions of dollars in his face?” Well, it’s true you can’t expect a kid to always make the right choice. You would still have a number of players who enter the draft before they should, a la Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair.

But do you honestly think it makes a difference if you’re waving that money in front of the face of a 19-year-old? Do you think that one year in school is going to all of a sudden instill wisdom that makes these kids decide to stay in school and get their degrees? No! You’re still going to have players, such as Austin Rivers of the New Orleans Hornets, who declare for the NBA Draft too soon. I mean, honestly, he’s having one of the worst years in NBA history. He clearly could have used a few more years playing at the collegiate level.

You can never stop players from leaving early unless you make them wait until they’re four years out of high school, which will never happen. Some players are too physically ready out of high school to make them wait that long.

I understand that college basketball would suffer without some of its stars for at least one year. If there wasn’t a rule forcing players to wait until they’re 19, that would likely mean I never would have gotten to see Kevin Durant play for my University of Texas Longhorns. But that’s a sacrifice I’d be willing to make.

College sports as a whole would benefit from a rule change. You would have players who actually want to be in college, as opposed to players who are only there because they can’t declare for the NBA Draft.

A rule change would also likely benefit the teams that you root for because you would have fewer players only going for one year. If you were a Kentucky fan, you wouldn’t have to relearn the roster every year. You could actually follow guys throughout their four-year careers. It would probably also make recruiting easier because you wouldn’t have to worry as much about guys leaving after a year.

But most importantly, a rule change would stop the sport from laughing at the idea of a student athlete. The current rule forces players to attend prestigious colleges for the sole purpose of playing basketball. That’s just not right. And once again, I’m not at all blaming the players. I’m blaming the NBA and college basketball for allowing this atrocity. There will never be a perfect system, but Noel’s injury is just another reason why a change is desperately needed.

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