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Freshman Ineligibility Proposal Makes No Sense

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This is not how to fix basketball's one-and-done situation.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Jon Solomon wrote a lengthy and excellent review of the recent push to restore freshman ineligibility. I encourage you to hit the link and read the whole thing, because there's more to it than just what I'm going to talk about here.

The short explanation is that the commissioners of the Pac-12, Big 12, and ACC want a serious discussion on returning to the days when freshmen were ineligible to play college sports. Freshmen couldn't play in any sport other than football and basketball until a vote in 1968 changed that. Football and basketball followed in 1972.

Some of the arguments have to do with academics and helping athletes get on track with their schoolwork before worrying about practices and competition. I can understand that push in the wake of the UNC academic scandal, but why they need that now when they haven't for the past four-and-a-half decades is unclear to me.

Really what this is about is the one-and-done phenomenon in men's basketball. The NBA set its age limit in such a way that players generally have to wait a year after graduating high school before being able to play there. Despite protestations from the NCAA and the success stories of players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard, the NBA hasn't wavered on its strategy to save itself from players like Kwame Brown and Robert Swift.

The Pac-12 presidents and chancellors included this on their list of agenda items for the other conference commissioners to review:

7. Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said:

Freshman ineligibility "would do a lot to restore credibility and integrity to college basketball," said Scott, whose conference is also studying the potential impact in other sports. "It would demonstrate they're students first on those teams and they're in class and getting grades that would keep them eligible. The reality of one-and-done is it's not even one. It's like half or three-quarters (of a school year) and done."

And another commissioner had this to say:

MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who once wrote a dissertation on freshman ineligibility, opposes the concept and said it's simply a way to attack one-and-done.

How bad exactly is the one-and-done issue? Solomon observed:

On average, 10 true freshmen have entered the NBA Draft each year from 2010-14.

That's... it? We're talking about revoking freshman eligibility from anywhere from hundreds of men's basketball players to every NCAA freshman athlete because of 10 players per year? There is no sense of proportionality here. It makes no sense to return to the days of freshman ineligibility over an average of 10 players per year.

I've always maintained that the solution to the one-and-done issue—if it needs fixing at all—is to adopt a system like what college baseball has. There, if you sign out of high school, you stay in school at least three years. Maybe in basketball it could be two instead of three. Whatever. If you don't sign out of high school, you just go ahead play baseball professionally. In basketball's case, players would have the option to play professionally in Europe or in the NBDL until they're above the age limit.

Adopting the baseball model for basketball makes more sense than the nuclear option of freshman ineligibility. I don't doubt for a second that the NCAA model has real problems when it comes to some athletes and academics, but conflating it with the rather narrow one-and-done men's basketball issue is not a recipe for success.