Is the NBA’s rule requiring players to spend at least one year in college another example of a well-intended policy gone bad?
In the current dynamic of the NBA, prospective players are required to complete at least one year of college before being allowed to turn professional and join the NBA. Indeed, it is only after serving this time in college can players enter the NBA Draft. The rationale behind this process is that players entering the rough and tough world of the NBA are more developed and mature if they have played in college. After gaining experience in a competitive environment such as college, the NBA hopes that athletes can adapt more easily to the pros. However, with that comes one caveat: the one-and-done rule. Increasingly, more and more players are declaring for the NBA Draft after only completing the minimum one year at college. Indeed, in last year’s draft, the top 3 draft picks were all one-and-done while the situation does not look like it will change much this year. With more and more players becoming one and done, we must ask ourselves as to how effective this rule mandated by the NBA really is. Are one and done players detrimental to the NBA or just a by-product of a useful system?
Firstly, we must look at what this rule was designed to prevent. Before this rule was implemented, players could jump directly from high school to the NBA. Indeed, top players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant followed this path. But for the successes of these players, there were those like Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi who were not able to mentally adapt to the bright lights of the NBA. On average, only 3 players per year were selected from high school (a mere 5% of players). However, at the same time, ever since the college play requirement was enforced, the number of freshmen being drafted out of college has risen astronomically. Between the span of 2011 and 2016, 53 players were one and done in the first round itself as opposed to 13 between 2000 and 2005. So, with an almost 300% rise in freshmen players being drafted, is this rule really helping players? It almost seems as if instead of focusing on development, it is giving players an incentive to leave college early. They know that it is just one year that is separating them from the riches of the NBA.
In addition, the one year of college requirement rule was intended also to help players gain the perks of a college education through the incentive of athletic scholarships. But, with players just trying to leave after one year, this has just seemed like a huge waste of time, effort and resources. In order to be eligible to attend these colleges, players have academic requirements to fulfill, and this is where the Derrick Rose example comes in. Before he became an MVP for the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose was a one-and-done player for the University of Memphis. But in order to be eligible for Memphis, Rose had to take standardized tests. And if reports are to be believed, after failing the ACT three times, Rose paid someone to take the SAT in his name in order to gain that eligibility. Another example is Ben Simmons, who was made to complete a year at LSU even though it was mostly obvious that he would be picked close to first in the draft. During his time at LSU, he refused to attend classes and was placed on academic probation. How much value does a college education have on their careers when these future NBA players clearly treat it more as a hassle than an opportunity?
Finally, the one-and-done situation is potentially unfair to the fans of the college teams themselves. How can fans be expected to root for college stand-outs like Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz if they are more interested in becoming a LA Laker or a Boston Celtic than being a UCLA Bruin or Washington Husky? But, at the same time, it is these one-and-done players that attract fans to the games? More people might be more inclined to watch a Duke game if someone like Jayson Tatum or Kyrie Irving were playing than otherwise.
It is clear there are problems with the one-and-done situation. But can we come up with better solutions? Some have suggested that the NBA return to a system in which players can declare their eligibly for the draft at whatever age they are at the time. Another idea suggested is to emulate the system in baseball in which if players commit to college, they have to stay for at least two years. This gives players a greater opportunity to have the “college experience.” All in all, however,, the one year of college rule is clearly not achieving what it was intended to accomplish.
Siddharth Kapoor is a student at The University of Chicago.