Posted in my blog for the Presidential Leadership Academy.
This week Mark Cuban “shocked” (shocked! I say!) the sports world by suggesting that the NCAA and its players would be better served going to the developmental league than spending one year in college and then going into the draft. I first heard about it on Mike and Mike in the Morning when Jeff Van Gundy mocked Cuban’s idea and said that it isn’t the NBA that should change, but universities, saying that schools should offer “non-academic tracks” for basketball players so that they can get their playing experience while also being with others of their own age. My shock, shock!, was immediately felt on Twitter by all 6 of my followers who actually read my tweets. This really is an important issue and, shocker!, I think Cuban has a really good idea.
Three years ago one of the groups in the sophomore PLA class on critical thinking developed a policy addressing this issue. It is a well researched and well thought out policy that is well worth reading. The current situation was precipitated in 2005 when the NBA moved to require players be at least 19 before they could enter the draft. This kept players from going directly into the NBA after high school, the apparent goal of the new policy, but (unintentionally?) made colleges and universities one-year training programs for these talented youths. Let’s break the problem down.
- Should 18 year olds be allowed to seek employment in the NBA?
- Is it good for students/players, the NCAA, or the NBA to have players enroll for one year then enter the NBA draft?
- What is best for the students, the NCAA, and the NBA?
So, should 18 year olds be allowed to seek employment? Are they eligible to enlist in the armed forces? The answer to both is yes. Mike Greenberg has often said that the current system is unfair to the players and I agree. Of course I also recognize that the NBA has a right to make certain rules about employment. (That is how we got here in the first place.) But there is a fairly straightforward solution to this problem and it was put forward by our students three years ago:
All drafted players must enter the draft within one year after high school graduation or after they reach the age of 22 or the completion of three years of a college education.
This follows the MLB model and we certainly don’t have a 1 and Done issue in baseball. (I was surprised to learn this year that the top-ranked NCAA hockey programs often have their players spend 2 years in the unpaid junior league before they come to college where they usually spend all 4 years.) This proposed model would address those concerned with the rights of the 18 year olds to seek employment in their chosen field. There is no guarantee that any team would take such a player and the NBA would still have a stick with which to prod those deemed unprepared to spend some time maturing before taking another shot at the draft.
This, then is in the best interest of the player who is physically ready to go into the Association, but would it be better for them to enroll in college? Even if only for a year? The answer is, of course, it depends. History shows that most athletes are not ready to go into the NBA right after HS. They need to mature as people and athletes. They need to develop their mental and physical skills, not to mention to finish growing!
I am of course a major proponent of education; it’s kind of my job. But I also recognize that it is not for everyone. I do think that everyone benefits from exposure to people of different cultures, different ideas, and life experiences. College usually provides this to students. Those supporting Van Gundy’s viewpoint, like Larry Brown, rightly argue that education is far more than basketball. I could not agree more! But really Larry, how much “education” are these players getting in their one year when they are often not attending classes and even those who do, because of the year-long season (see my comments below), have little opportunity to interact with the rest of the student body.
A college experience is of incredible value. But you need to put more than one year into it if you are going to get anything out of it.
So to answer my second question, no, it is not in the best interest of the player, the NBA, or the NCAA for them to do one year in a college and then go into the NBA. If they are good enough to go at 19, but are not quite there, then that is what a developmental league is for. Use it!
What is amazing about Van Gundy’s response was not that he should reject Cuban’s suggestion because the D-league is not very good and poorly attended. From what I can tell, both those facts are true. Rather it is that he puts the onus on the universities to change their mission in order to accommodate the NBA. And that is how we answer the third question, what is best for all three, the players, the NBA, and the NCAA.
We need to go back to the missions of the NBA and the NCAA while respecting the players.
The NBA’s “mission” is, I assume, the put out an entertaining and compelling product that will yield massive profits for their stakeholders. The mission of the NCAA, or more properly, colleges and universities, is to education men and women. The NCAA is there to support that mission. If both institutions were to focus upon achieving their stated goals the players would benefit.
If the NBA would concentrate on producing a good product, they would invest in their D league and make it a more supportive and productive experience for the players while drawing in more fans. The result would be better athletes in the NBA and better games, perhaps even real parity that wouldn’t require teams to “tank” their season. Another problem for another day. They might even generate some interest in the NBA in smaller markets with strategically placed and supported D league teams.
If the NCAA supports their member institutions then they would be encouraging students who choose to attend school to remain until they achieve their degrees and would not allow structures such as the year-long season (again, see below) to distract our athletes from being students.
And if that happened, the young men would benefit. They would have the freedom to try out for the NBA when they graduate from HS, development in a strong basketball environment if they do not desire to achieve a degree, and for those who have that desire and aptitude our universities and colleges will continue to support them, without undue pressure on them to leave before they have truly experienced all that Larry Brown rightly says a college experience can be.
If we make such changes, I think Cuban will be proved right:
“We can get rid of all the hypocrisy and improve the education,” Cuban said. “If the whole plan is just to go to college for one year maybe or just the first semester, that’s not a student-athlete. That’s ridiculous.”
Finally, another glaring problem with NCAA basketball that is not impacted by the NBA but is purely self-inflicted is graduation rates. (Interestingly I could not easily find the 2013 graduation rates on the NCAA website, I am sure it is there, but I did find it on a Syracuse blog.) In short, they are abysmal. Most top performing basketball schools, including many in the B1G, are below 50% and almost all are below 60%. Penn State has a 100% NCAA graduation rate for this period…but it must be admitted that we are not one of the top performing programs. That is a tradeoff I am happy to take.
But back to the problem. It is not so much the 1 and Done group, rather it is due to their season. Basketball is allowed to span two semesters. They begin before the fall semester exams start and continue through the majority of the spring semester. All other sport seasons are only over one semester which allows players to take a lighter load during their season and make up the courses during the summer, for example. But to be competitive in basketball, well, clearly compromises are made. The answer is simple: make basketball a spring sport.
If the answer is so simple, why won’t it happen? Because of the money generated. I understand that, but we, the universities, need to remember our mission and make education our first priority. And after all, we can still have our alliteration, just make it May Madness.