Hoop Thoughts

College Basketball commentary with Seth Davis

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  • 11:55 AM ET  10.27

Buzz Bissinger has an interesting op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times calling for the abolishment of the NBA's 19-year-old minimum age rule. The piece is worth a read because I think it describes the journey that many people have taken with regard to the rule, which was instituted in 2005. It sounded like a good idea, but upon closer inspection it doesn't hold up.

The reason most often given to justify the rule was to keep youngsters from making a mistake. Bissinger provides some critical data to disprove that argument:

A study by Michael McCann, a professor at Vermont Law School who is an expert on sports and legal issues, pointed out that of the 21 high school players who declared for the draft from 1975 to 2001, four became superstars -- Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady -- and only four never made it to the NBA. This trend held with the high school draft classes of 2002 through 2005, the year the ban was put in place: of the 26 players drafted, 20 were still playing through last season and three have become superstars: Amar'e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and James.

I give Bissinger credit for avoiding the mistake that too many commentators make, which is to attribute the rule, positively or negatively, to the NCAA. He infers that the NCAA was pushing the NBA along, but that is not true. There was literally no communication between the NBA and the NCAA on this issue. Both NBA commissioner David Stern and the late NCAA president Myles Brand told me as much when I interviewed them together for CBS two years ago. The NBA age minimum was agreed upon by Stern and Billy Hunter, the head of the NBA Players Association. Hunter told me that the only reason he agreed to the age minimum was because it was the final point of contention in the last collective bargaining agreement. Stern wanted the minimum to be 20, Hunter didn't want it at all, so they split the baby at 19 and closed the deal.

Personally, I always opposed the age minimum, even though it has been an unmistakable boon to college basketball, the sport that helps me feed my kids. Yes, I know there are issues of academic integrity when kids are spending basically a semester and a half on campus, but from a purely marketing and business standpoint, would anyone argue that college hoops would have been better off the last few years if Greg Oden, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love hadn't spent a year on campus? But I opposed the rule from a standpoint of basic fairness. Kids have a right to make the best choices for themselves, even if they made the wrong decisions. There is obviously a market for their services, and they should have the right to test it.

A third-way rule has emerged from many circles in college basketball, and it is not a bad idea: Allow high school players to declare for the draft, but if they go to school, they have to go for two years. But based on my conversations with Hunter, I think that will be a tough sell. His theory is that the real motivation behind the rule was -– surprise! –- money. If a player comes into the league when he's older, that shaves time off the back end off of his contract, where he is making the biggest money. At any rate, the NBA and NBAPA are about to head into a very dicey negotiation for their next collective bargaining agreement, which will be complicated by the severe economic climate. If Hunter keeps his back up, I have a hard time imagining David Stern pushing this issue at the expense of the more pressing ones.

If the third-way rule isn't adopted, I agree with Bissinger that the age minimum should be dropped. There is actually a much more simple solution to this conundrum. If David Stern really doesn't want these young kids in his league, he should tell his teams to stop drafting them.

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