How “One and Done” Fosters the NCAA’s Unjust Student-Athlete System
The NBA recently passed draft reform that is supposed to discourage tanking by giving the worst three teams in the league the same odds of landing the number one overall pick. It remains to be seen if this reform will cause any meaningful difference in regards to tanking but there is a much deeper problem with the draft that goes beyond teams being bad on purpose. This particular problem doesn’t affect the team’s odds at getting a high pick, but concerns the players that teams potentially want to draft.
Since 2006, the NBA has required that players entering the draft be nineteen years old during the calendar year of the draft and, if he is not an international player, as defined in the collective bargaining agreement, at least be one year removed from the graduation of his high school class.
This has resulted in almost all American born NBA players attending at least one year of college since that time period, with players such as Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay being notable exceptions, opting instead to play a season of international basketball rather than attend college. By enforcing this rule, the NBA is forcing prospective players to enter into the NCAA system for what amounts to indentured servitude. The college pays for room and board and in return, the players bring in millions of dollars to the universities they attend.
The NCAA requires that its players submit to amateur status in order to compete at its member institutions. This requirement bars players from profiting on their on-court production and the sanctions against this are listed out. Any player who commits an act that the NCAA deems to violate his amateur status will result in the player being ruled ineligible , losing his scholarship and potentially hurting his draft status and the chance of going pro. The NCAA argues that this is because student-athletes are students first and athletes second but how true is that?
The argument supporting the NCAA system is that these players are receiving a free education at a college institution, which in itself is “priceless”. This argument rings hollow. Student-athletes have a strict schedule that involves pushing them to their physical limits, occasionally traveling and missing class time for road games, and performing at a high level to keep their scholarships. Expecting them to have the time and energy necessary to be the best student they can be is an enormous ask. In fact, the NCAA has proven that the athlete part of the student-athlete system means much more to them through their actions.
The University of North Carolina (UNC) faced an investigation in 2010 regarding academic fraud that involved some premier student-athletes and the Afro-American studies department. The classes misidentified as a lecture style class when really the only requirement was one or two research papers. Many of the players didn’t even physically attend what amounted to “paper classes” that had the sole purpose of helping players maintain academic eligibility. After years of investigation and delays, the NCAA ruled that they could not prove UNC offered these classes as a systematic effort to benefit student athletes because the general student population also benefited from these paper classes. The NCAA’s inaction in this case destroys the argument that the athletes are receiving an invaluable learning experience.
The NCAA would have you believe it is strictly non-profit which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Recent allegations against the University of Louisville have brought to light the corruption that runs through the NCAA. The FBI alleges that at least four assistant coaches across the country conspired with an Adidas executive to funnel money to top recruits. In exchange, the recruits would attend their university and sign with Adidas once they became a professional. It is alleged that Brian Bowen, a five-star basketball recruit received $100,000 to sign with Louisville. The allegations led interim university President Greg Postel to suspend basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, said that Pitino had been “effectively fired.” Bowen remains suspended but is still on campus currently.
For a non-profit organization, the NCAA has made many coaches like Pitino and other employees in these universities millionaires. It seems hypocritical that the only ones who truly become rich from college athletics are people who exploit the talent of teenagers. With TV deals, merchandise sales, alumni contributions, and corporations like Adidas having their hands in this “amateur” system it seems like there is a unbelievable amount of money going around for no one to profit. The NCAA is run like a business because it is a business and the student-athletes should be regarded as employees and be entitled to some sort of profits.
This is not to say that the players don’t reap some benefits from participating in college athletics. They do get to participate in an environment that helps them hone their skills and further perfect their craft while receiving national exposure to increase their draft stock. Plus some professional players take full advantage of the education they receive and either stay the full four years to receive a degree or go back to school in the offseason to complete their credits to prepare for life after basketball. However, it should be a choice for the player to make. The fact that they are compelled to conform to a system that profits off of their talents yet doesn’t allow them to profit individually is wrong and the NBA’s age rule is a complicit contributor to this.
Adam Silver has expressed interest in possibly raising the age limit but that is not necessary to ensure a higher quality of players coming into the league. The NBA’s primary motivation for the age requirement is it allows teams to evaluate talent and allows the players to refine their skills a bit before they enter the league. If the NBA wants to continue to do that, a solution would be to allow players coming out of high school to enter the G-League as free agents then be drafted a year later if they wanted to. They would still be paid to play, would be playing against a higher level of talent, and it would allow teams to evaluate young prospects. In regards to draft reform, this is the real change the league should make if it has any concern for its players.