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One and Done Rule: Where Basketball Should Defer to Baseball

In Sprints this morning, cocknfire had an item about the one-and-done situation in college basketball.

If you're unfamiliar with how we got to this point, here's how it went down. NBA owners got tired of high school players jumping straight to the NBA. Some of them ended up outright busts, while others simply took several years to develop. Sure, there were some guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James who could handle the transition just fine, but it's expensive in terms of money and costly in terms of draft picks to wait on the guys who may or may not pan out.

So instead of just telling their general managers not to draft any high school players that weren't obvious future stars like Dwight Howard, they decided to get together and make a rule that keeps anyone out of the league who is not 19 years old. This was the owners' way to save them from themselves: force these players into at least a season in college (or the NBDL or overseas) to give everyone another year to evaluate them against better competition.

On some level it was also supposed to be about helping players make the right decision and get some extra seasoning if they needed it. The tragedy of Jonathan Bender's career might have been averted had he just gone to college, you see. He might have learned from an old basketball sage like Mike Krzyzewski or Jim Boeheim and entered the pro level fully prepared. That nagging feeling in the back of your head about what that sentiment says about NBA coaches' abilities to develop players should be ignored, of course.

The age limit has worked for the NBA fairly well, as teams no longer are forced at gunpoint to draft guys like Sebastian Telfair and Darius Miles. However, it's been awful for college basketball. For every player like Hasheem Thabeet, who might have gone straight to the pros if he had the chance but stayed three years at UConn to develop his game, there have  been several others like O.J. Mayo, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evens who just skipped their college towns as fast as possible. Having these guys around has brought agent controversy, like with Mayo, and recruiting controversy, like with Rose and these guys:

On top of it all, to say that the one-and-done situation makes a mockery of the academic missions of these, you know, universities is to draw deeply from the well of understatement.

A blanket age limit is not the right solution. It works in football because we don't want 17- or 18-year-old kids getting pummeled to a pulp by 30-year-old men. Basketball doesn't involve that kind of physicality, or at least it hasn't since Charles Oakley retired.

The fix is to look at how baseball does things. The guys who want to turn pro out of high school can turn pro. That allows the LeBrons of the world to go ahead and start their careers since they're ready for it. If someone opts to go to college, then they can't leave for at least two years. In baseball the rule is three years, but a two year rule might work for basketball.

In order to make that work, the NBA would need to both overhaul the NBDL to become a proper minor league and change the way draft contracts work. If you enact a baseball-style rule and change nothing else, then we're roughly back to how things were before the age limit.

The upcoming labor negotiations in 2011 would be the perfect time to get this done, but hoping for a change would assume that the NBA thought of college basketball as more than a free developmental league and future rookie promotion device. In other words, don't hold your breath.