A couple different writers have referenced the possibility of the NBA changing the age requirement for entering the league when both sides sit down at the negotiating table during the inevitable lockout. John Feinstein of The Washington Post touches on it here, and ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan tabs it as an intriguing offseason story line to watch in college basketball. And, if anyone listens to Bill Simmons’ podcast–and I do recommend it–he has had some good interviews, one of which was with David Stern, where he has broached the subject.
Anyway, as both an avid college and professional basketball fan, I am salivating over the idea of the NBA upping the age requirement at least one more year. I just do not see where the league or the NCAA would lose in this situation. The only roadblock is the players union, but I’m not completely sure why they are so against the age requirements.
Let’s begin with the college basketball perspective–this is a college hoops blog, after all. Obviously, the product that they are able to put out on the basketball court is going to jump by leaps and bounds. It’s not rocket science. Don’t you think Kevin Durant would have done some special things in his sophomore year at Texas? Wouldn’t you like to see Kyrie Irving get a full season under his belt running the show at Duke? Increasing the age requirement increases the talent pool. And, besides just increasing the talent pool, it’s going to spread talent out. Duke can recruit an Austin Rivers and a Quinn Cook even though they just got Kyrie Irving and have other good players in their backcourt because these guys know that Irving is going to be gone before they get there. How many big-time high school recruits want to come in and sit on the bench because a guy who is a year older than them has their spot locked up at least for another year? That is where you’ll start to see a guy who may have otherwise chosen a Duke or a UNC end up choosing a Maryland or Florida State. And that process would reverberate throughout all the levels of college hoops. Trust me, you won’t be seeing many 53-41 National Championship games if the age requirement is increased by a year–or, God forbid, two.
What about the NBA? You can bet that nobody hates the idea of 19-year-olds flooding the league more than David Stern. A staggering number of very, very talented players have seen their careers burn out before they really even got started because they were not ready for the NBA on or off the court. It takes much more than talent to play in the league–I don’t think I’m saying anything new here. Players gain a maturity playing in college that high school basketball, even at its highest level, cannot mirror.
First of all, a high school star will quickly realize that the world does not revolve around him when Coach K sticks him on the scout team his first day of practice. In major college basketball, even the best players out of high school have to earn their spot. Of course, this happens more quickly at some programs than others, but look at a guy like Josh Selby: top recruit out of high school, comes to Kansas, doesn’t fully embrace the system and finds himself as the ninth guy in the rotation. This was a guy who many people thought would come out after a year, and now he’d be foolish to.
Secondly, players learn to play in big games in college. I don’t care if you play for an Oak Hill or Montrose Christian when you are in high school, there is nothing like playing in a rivalry game in a hostile environment at the college level. It’s not just the overwhelming crowds, especially when you’re on the road, but it’s that next level of intensity on the court that you just can’t understand until you’ve been a part of it. And playing in those situations a handful of times throughout one year in college really cannot get someone ready for what they’re going to see at the next level. Sure, there are exceptions–some guys have enough talent to overcome that–but you can’t argue that an extra year wouldn’t benefit even the most talented players in terms of getting them into the right mindset for those situations night-in and night-out.
Having rookies that are more prepared to handle the grind of the league not only helps the players themselves, but the league as a whole. Drafting an 19-year-old and seeing him burn out because he wasn’t ready in the first place not only is a waste of talent but a wasted investment for the teams that have paid them in the first place. Remember: an extra year in college also gives teams more material on which to evaluate these potential draftees. I’d love to find a statistic on how much money is wasted from all stages of the process when a young kid doesn’t come close to reaching the potential that he was drafted because of. You figure it is wasted salary paid to the player, wasted scouting resources which of course cost money as well, and the opportunity cost of what a team may have lost if they had taken another, maybe more experienced, player.
For the life of me, I cannot understand what the hold-up is with this rule. I know we always have to take baby steps–we have to impose a one-year age-limit increase before we can impose two-years. It doesn’t make sense to me, but fine. I just hope Commissioner Stern makes this rule a priority of his going into this lockout because it just seems like everyone involved would benefit, and benefit greatly. Time will tell.