NCAA Sports: How Can "One-And-Done" Be Fixed?

This is not a new topic here at A Sea of Blue, nor is it unfamiliar to most college basketball fans.  We have talked about the one-and-done rule numerous times over the last 12 months or so.

This thoughtful post at Rush The Court examines the issue in detail, and the driving force behind this piece was some recent comments by Dr. Mark Emmert, the new president of the NCAA, who said this:

"I much prefer the baseball model, for example, that allows a young person if they want to go play professional baseball, they can do it right out of high school, but once they start college they've got to play for three years or until they're 21," Emmert, who is leaving the University of Washington to take the helm of the NCAA, said in the interview. "I like that a good deal."

Rush The Court points out, correctly, that the baseball model has several flaws inherent in its system, not the least of which would manifest themselves thus in the basketball context:

  1. Short-changing the NCAA;
  2. Short-changing schools and coaches;
  3. For better or worse, NCAA basketball is the minor leagues for NBA basketball.

Eamonn Brenan of ESPN follows on to RTC's article with one of his own, where he adds this additional issue:

But it [one-and-done] also forces players, a handful of which have no business in college basketball, into an exploitive system that makes millions each year from their ability and pays them little in return. This system is less egregious when applied to four-year players with little chance at the NBA, because those players got a free college education out of the deal. Players bound for the NBA have no such reward. They have eight months of classes, and that's it. All the while, they risk injury, the fluctuation of draft status, and any other number of things that could put their NBA futures -- in other words, their financial futures -- in jeopardy.

And why? So the NBA can protect foolish GMs who can't resist the lure of potential. (Which still happens anyway; say hello to Daniel Orton.) It hardly seems fair.

What Eamonn is effectively saying here is that NCAA basketball for the one-and-done player is pure exploitation, but it is less so for the four-year player who at least walks away with a degree.  And the purpose of all this is to protect stupid, greedy (my words, not his) NBA GM's from themselves.  I agree with him.

We'll sort all this out after the jump.

First of all, there are three fundamental considerations here:

  • The interests of the player;
  • The interests of the NCAA;
  • The interests of the NBA.

Unfortunately, there is only one entity controlling this entire outcome -- the NBA.  The NCAA is not in a position to control anything, because of two important reasons; 1) the NBA is the ultimate, desirable destination for the players and, 2) they set the rules for entry into their league, not the NCAA.  The NCAA's ship on control sailed back in 1971, and that Supreme Court decision is not going to be undone.

In its new collective bargaining agreement, the NBA, at most, might extend the delay in entry by one year.  Might.  At most.  The smart money is on them doing absolutely nothing, because the one-and-done system works pretty well from their perspective.  Maybe two-and-done would work better, but you can forget about three years.

Why will the NBA not adopt the baseball rule?  Because it isn't in their best interests.  Baseball is not basketball: It takes years for young baseball players to mature enough to be ready, even the ones that get drafted right out of high school.  That is not the case with the best young basketball players -- they are often ready to contribute much earlier.

The NCAA doesn't lose anything if one-and-done gets changed or not.  From their perspective, as long as they get a shot at the athlete for one year minimum, they are fine with it.  Oh, publicly the will rebuke the NBA and wax pious about how we need to keep kids in school longer, but from a business perspective, it makes no difference to them.

The interests of the players, however, were not served by forcing them into a one-year apprenticeship, be it in the NBADL, college, or overseas.  The interests of the player are not considered, really, by either organization.  They are just meat on the hoof, requiring a bit of seasoning before performing for the masses.  The NCAA may not be comfortable in their role as sous chef, but they are not financially hurt by it at all.

So how can the NCAA, presumably the most likely party to be disposed to the interests of the player, actually have a positive effect on the situation from the player's perspective?  It really isn't that challenging.

Allow players drafted by the NBA, or undrafted after declaring, the opportunity to repay all draft-related expenses (even on a repayment plan) and return to college.  All it would take for this to become viable is for the NBA to agree not to treat early-entrant players returning to college as free agents -- an agreement that I think could be made, since it really doesn't have much of an impact on the NBA's bottom line. 

The only time the NBA is really looking to pick up free agents during the season is to fill holes in their playoff roster, a fairly minor consideration with other sources available, such as the NBADL.  Poaching colleges for eligible free agents would look bad, and likely not yield much benefit.

This closes the Randolph Morris loophole (Yes, I'm aware it's already closed another way, but that would be changed by this proposal), allows the player to come back to school and get his education.  The NBA may elect not to allow players to enter another draft, as is currently the case, but after the school year is over, they could certainly then offer the player a free agent contract.

The one caveat, however, is that the college would not be required to offer the scholarship that the player had just renounced to enter the draft.  This requirement will produce some turmoil, and some players would be forced to transfer to other schools.  I think there should be a provision that says if the scholarship is withdrawn by the school, the player should be allowed to transfer without serving a year in residence, but if the offer is there and the player transfers, he must serve his year.

Of course, this presumes the player is academically eligible -- ineligible players (like Daniel Orton) would be out of luck, and would have to regain that eligibility before a school could offer them a scholarship.  This has the added benefit of making it less likely players will leave schools in bad academic standing, like Orton did.

An arrangement like this allows a player to get all he wants out of college, and doesn't make his one shot at the NBA draft a make-or-break affair as far as his academic education is concerned.  This implements the best of the college baseball system, which allows players who have been drafted to come to college anyway if they prefer.  It also helps the colleges by providing a pool of good players who are eligible to return.  It does make a more challenging situation for college coaches, but let's face it --these guys make millions of dollars.  They can handle it.

Best of all, it provides an opportunity for many kids who declare early, get caught up in the NBA meat-grinder who would otherwise wind up playing pro ball overseas or for $35,000 a year to better themselves, earn a degree and develop their skills at the same time.  In other words, it is good for the player and is far less exploitative than the current system, and goes much further down the road of providing an opportunity for education, something the NCAA should embrace.

For those of you concerned about amateurism, let me close with this question: If we are all willing to admit that college basketball is the minor leagues for the NBA, why not actually embrace that reality instead of mumbling it to ourselves so others can't hear?  By loosening the ridiculously tight amateurism rules, we will open up many opportunities for continuing education and growth that can only benefit our country, not just satisfy the Byzantine amateurism maze created by the NCAA bureaucracy.

Is this proposal perfect?  Nah, it still allows the aforesaid exploitation by the NBA and the NCAA, but that is not really fixable.  But by giving early entrants who don't hit the jackpot an opportunity to come back and earn an education in return for basketball is desirable from every reasonable perspective.

This probably makes too much sense to happen, but we can always hope.

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