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Nerlens Noel’s knee injury and the unfairness of the ‘one-and-done’ rule

Feb 13, 2013, 9:22 AM EDT

Nerlens Noel

As of this morning, we don’t know the severity of the knee injury that Nerlens Noel, Kentucky’s star center and a likely candidate for the No. 1 pick in this June’s NBA Draft, suffered at Florida last night.

What we do know is that knees aren’t supposed to bend sideways to a 90-degree angle, and that anyone in enough pain to have their screams clearly audible on the television broadcast probably won’t be playing for a while. We can only hope that whatever happened inside that left knee is a) not too serious and b) somehow fixable.

(UPDATE: It’s official: Noel tore his ACL and, obviously, will be out for the rest of the season.)

Because the issue here isn’t that the Kentucky Wildcats lost their star center or that John Calipari’s team, the reigning national champions, now appear destined for the NIT. The bigger problem is that Noel’s knee isn’t a normal knee.

It’s a knee worth millions upon millions of dollars, one that an NBA General Manager is going to have to look at and decide whether or not it’s worth it to invest some $10-$14 million of guaranteed money in.

And that’s precisely why Noel should have never been in college in the first place. From Pat Forde:

The greater issue is Noel’s future, and the way it is put at risk by a system that forced him to play college ball for a year instead of going straight into the NBA draft.

Noel may have gotten hurt in 2013 no matter where he was playing, but at least he would be under contract and well-compensated by whatever NBA team would have drafted him in the first round last June.

Instead, he wound up playing for scholarship money at Kentucky. And while that is nothing to sneeze at, Noel’s presence on campus represents restraint of trade and a bastardization of what college is supposed to be.

He wants to be a pro basketball player. Let him be a pro basketball player without the charade of college delaying it. Unfortunately, that was not an easy option.

If this injury compromises Noel’s draft status, it’s on David Stern and his league’s minimum age requirement.

This is the worst-case scenario. This is the ‘what if?’ we’re always talking about. This is the No. 1 overall pick, a player that could have been banking seven-figures right now had the NBA not implemented the one-and-done rule, risking his livelihood because David Stern and his cronies ruled that a player be 19 and a year out of high school to be eligible for the draft.

The point that needs to be made clear here is that this is not college basketball’s fault. They have no control over what the NBA decides to do. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Emmert and company were pushing for the one-and-done rule to go away. It would take away the headache of some of those recruiting scandals while leaving the NCAA’s one true money-maker — the NCAA tournament — intact.

Maybe Noel’s knee-injury can be a catalyst for change in the next collective bargaining agreement, but that seems unlikely. The NBAPA is an unmitigated disaster right now, and those NBA owners want an extra year — maybe more — of scouting and evaluation and development before they decide to invest millions into an athlete. It’s their money, and they want every bit of information possible to ensure they’re spending it wisely; they want to know they’re spending it on a kid that’s going to be ready to contribute, not a player that needs the length of his rookie contract just to develop enough skill to break into the rotation.

That rule isn’t changing.

And it’s not fair.

So what can we do?

Continue to push for college athletes to be compensated properly by the NCAA? Push for more of the elite players to spend a season abroad? Tell them to avoid college all together and instead spend a year training to develop the rest of their all-around game (an NBA redshirt, if you will)?

Modern medicine has made it such that a blown-out knee is no longer a career-ending injury. Ask Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL and MCL exactly a year before he nearly broke the single-season NFL rushing record. Ask Branden Dawson, who doesn’t look the slightest bit bothered despite having torn his ACL less than a year ago.

So even if Noel’s knee injury is a worst-case scenario, it’s not necessarily the end of his career.

But the fact that someone so valuable was even put at risk of an injury like this is a travesty.

Yet, there’s nothing that we can do about it than shake our fists and look on disapprovingly.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

  1. professoressadiesel - Feb 13, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    How come no one complains about the 3 yr rule that’s in place for the NFL?

    • protectthishouse54 - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      Because 18 year olds would get murdered in the NFL.

    • florida727 - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      The argument I’ve heard repeatedly is that football is, by far, a more physical game, and a high school player’s body is simply not mature enough to withstand it. With very few exceptions, I find it hard to argue with the logic (can’t believe I’m agreeing with anything that has Gooddell’s name behind it, oh well)…

      • professoressadiesel - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        And just maybe Noel’s lower body just wasn’t strong enough to handle that play. Maybe he needed to develop some strength. That’s why I love the NFL’s age limit and not the NBA’s…too many kids body’s aren’t strong enough to bang around with “men.” Doesn’t matter if the NBA isn’t as physical, it’s just as athletic.

        Not saying though that freak injuries don’t happen, just that helping a maturing body get stronger should be of a little more importance than just getting to the league as fast as you can just to get paid.

      • LogicalConsideration - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        It’s not that the NFL get’s it right. It’s that it get’s it half-right in a way that wouldn’t have helped Noel.

        As much as I dislike baseball, it’s draft policy is exactly the right and fair way. You are draft eligible right out of high school, but you can choose whether to sign a contract or enroll in college. If you enroll in college, you can’t be drafted again for 3 years.

        In basketball, this would allow every kid who THINKS he is a hot shot to see whether he can get drafted higher than kids 3 years older with 3 years of college level competition. LaBron, Garnett, Noel? Welcome to The League.

        Yes, the NBA would need to tweak things so that if a team drafted a kid who didn’t sign and chose to go to college, it would get a compensatory extra pick the following year.

        And the NCAA would need to relax its agent rules so that players could be represented by an agent between the about September 1 of their senior year in high school until they chose to enroll in college. And, probably, allowing this representation would make it easier to monitor agents and deter them (mostly) from showering cash and gifts on their clients.

    • gpatrick15 - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      They do: See Clowney, Jadeveon.

      • cornerhawk - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        Clowney is an extremely rare example of a kid that could go straight to the NFL.

        I think they should drop the one and done rule. Make it more like baseball. You can go straight to the draft if you want. If you chose to go to college you have to stay for at least 2 years.

    • fanofthegame79 - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      The one and done rule is rediculous and for all of the reasons below, the NFL rule makes sense. But I will say this: only professional sports have these rules. If you want to sign up for the military(and potentially lose you life for this country) no one says you have to be out of high school for a year. This rule needs to go away.

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 14, 2013 at 1:17 PM

      Instead, he wound up playing for scholarship money at Kentucky. And while that is nothing to sneeze at

      compared to NBA money that is pocket change, from boosters.

  2. packerbadger - Feb 13, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    This is why its just as important to get a good education in addition to competing in college sports. I’ve seen this time and time again. I hope the guy is ok, but that knee is going to need to be reconstructed and he won’t be playing competitively (if at all) until 2014. This should be a lesson learned for the younger players with higher ambitions.

    • Rob Dauster - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      Knee injuries aren’t what they used to be. See: Peterson, Adrian or Dawson, Branden. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was ready to go at the start of the next NBA season.

  3. majorhavoc83 - Feb 13, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    I saw the game last night on ESPB, and it was *not* pretty at all. I sincerely hope that this is not career ending or threatening.

    Now, from a business perspective, any athlete of this caliber that is in college *can* get insurance that will cover them if they never play in the NBA (or NFL). It’s not the same as having a career in the pros, but that option does exist and it can pay them significant money.

  4. zacksdad - Feb 13, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    What if he would got hurt in high school? Maybe they should allow high school players join the NBA.

    What if he would have got hurt his first year in the NBA? He would have lost all the future years and never got past his rookie contract.

    What if you would have never written this article? I would not have bothered to comment.

  5. barkley34 - Feb 13, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    The ARP Wave got Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson back in TOP FORM for the NFL. DAMN! All this kid needs to do is getting on the ARP WAVE System and this will have his knee back better and stronger in 1/10th the time. Look at Adrian Peterson!

  6. nderdog - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Yes, that darned NBA forcing kids to at least make a vague attempt at actually learning something rather than being completely useless after this injury happens his rookie year instead of in school.

    In the real world, 1 year is a ridiculous requirement. Learn from the NFL and make it 3 years. Now this poor kid has 2 more years to prove to the NBA that he’s recovered and he can play at the pro level, or he can realize that he’s a year away from a college degree, and might make the intelligent decision to stick around one more year.

    • sabatimus - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:22 AM

      This argument makes sense if you believe that college is the best option for a kid. Due to tremendously high costs and the growing number of people who do quite well without a degree, it’s making less and less sense all the time to embrace higher education.

      • nderdog - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:01 PM

        The costs don’t apply to the players with a shot at the pros due to scholarships. The fact is, those with a degree have a better shot at making a good living. I feel extremely lucky to be as successful as I am without a college diploma, and had it not been for military training in a relevant field, I’d never be where I am today without college. Expecting to do well in life on a high school diploma is just not the best idea no matter how you look at it.

      • cornerhawk - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:04 PM

        Yes, let’s embrace being a country of un/undereducated masses while the rest of the world passes us by.

      • jangocat - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:08 PM

        College also makes sense if you want NBA players that actually know the fundamentals of basketball. The quality of the game eroded drastically when the NBA was allowing kids to go directly into the league knowing nothing but street ball and their own dominance of much lesser skilled high school players. The young players skipping their college playing were the reason the USA lost their dominance in the Olympics.

    • Rob Dauster - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

      Serious question: What kind of education do you think the star athletes at these major universities are getting? Read up on the scandal at UNC. It’s a farce.

      And I would like to see a rule that makes kids have to spend two years in school if they go to college. But I think there needs to be a way for the athletes that are ready to play in the NBA as 18 year olds to be able to do so. Remember, that’s referring to maybe, at most, five kids a year.

      • nderdog - Feb 13, 2013 at 2:45 PM

        Sure, it’s not the best education, but at least it’s something. Even ignoring the academic side, college is where kids learn a lot of life skills. For most, it’s the first time they’ve been away from their families on a daily basis, so they’re just finding out about making their own decision and usually learn the hard way about making bad choices. Those are not often good things for some just-out-of-high-school suddenly multi-millionaire to face.

        I just think it’s a really bad thing to let these young kids straight out of high school be put into a pro environment without the benefit of both the classroom and life lessons of at least a couple-three years of college provides.

      • sabatimus - Feb 13, 2013 at 3:49 PM

        That’s something I left out of my point earlier: the education kids get at the major universities is often a complete joke.

      • sabatimus - Feb 13, 2013 at 3:54 PM

        I also really don’t think being in the classroom, at any level, has necessarily a direct correlation with lessons about life and how to conduct oneself with responsibility. I went through 8 years of post-HS schooling, and from what I saw the students were often learning the exact opposite–how to exploit the “haven from the law” that is most college campuses (even though the Dean would obviously say precisely the opposite…).

    • shackdelrio - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:09 PM

      The rule is not in place so the kids get a degree. There is little benefit in the one and done rule for the athlete involved.

  7. packhawk04 - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Theres a force in the world, and it affects all of us. Whether youre a salesman, driver, writer, it doesnt matter what or who you are. This force affects all of us, and it has ruined careers of many that make far less money than an nba player. This weird, unstoppable force we all must shutup and deal is with IS….


  8. philliesblow - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    I believe baseball players can be drafted right form HS, but if they go to college they are required to play 3 years. Why not have the same system for basketball? It gives the cream of the crop the option to go pro (including overseas where there are still some nice pay checks) and also provides some stability for the college game.

    • florida727 - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:15 PM

      Your suggestion makes the most sense. As Rob pointed out in one of his posts, you’re talking (at most) about a handful of kids. When the rest realize they’re not quite as good as their parents and friends tell them they are, maybe the reality of, “hey, I really should get a college education”, will hit them.

      In baseball it used to be that once you enrolled in college, you couldn’t get drafted until your college class graduated. A friend of mine was drafted by the KC Royals right out of high school but he decided to go to college. In the 4 years he was in college, they went from 18 farm teams to 4. By the time he got out of college, they had no use for him. His degree and an MBA later, he’s a very successful businessman. I doubt he has any regrets.

    • phillyphever - Feb 13, 2013 at 10:38 PM

      Because unlike basketball, baseball has levels of minor league systems were said high school kid can go and get himself ready for the show.

  9. jlinatl - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    This will only make the NBA’s stance more firm. If he had already been paid, obviously someone would have had to make that payment.

  10. ransomstoddard1 - Feb 13, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    This is one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read. As others have said, he could have had a “career ending injury” his rookie year as a pro. Or as a high school senior. The real issue here is that an 18 or 19 year old kid needs to have some other options in his or her life than playing pro sports, because injuries can, do, and will happen.

  11. falstaffsmind - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    There is more to life than a break-neck rush to accumulate money. I wonder if anyone ever polled professional athletes and posed this question… “Have you had more fun and enjoyed your life more while playing this sport professionally, or when you played in college?”

    • Rob Dauster - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:40 PM

      But shouldn’t that be the kid’s decision to make?

    • shackdelrio - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:11 PM

      They have more fun when they are getting paid millions to play basketball for a living. No need to ask.

  12. sylpkt - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    The NBA should develop the D-League as a minor league system for High School kids with no college aspirations but NBA talent. Allow the kid to either sign a contact with a D-League team or hold a D-League draft. The players would then have the option of signing a contract and giving up thier ameteur status or can play in college (just like baseball). Once they reach a certain age or have completed so many seasons in the D-League or College, they could be drafted into the NBA. That would allow a player to be compensated, insured, and trained if they don’t desire to pretend to be a college athlete. (I seriously doubt the majority of those atheletes would even qualify academically if they didn’t get exemptions because they were athletic)

    • beavertonsteve - Feb 13, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      The NCAA is already the development league for the NBA. I wish the NBA and NCAA would end the farce and just allow players to be drafted, signed and play in college until they are ready.

  13. calrip9695 - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    I am not naive enoughto believe that student-athletes of this caliber at major universities attend class regularly, or that they are actually there for an education. That being said maybe he will have to take advantage of this “free ride” and get his degree and work. OH NO!!!!!

    I also, do not agree with the one and done rule that is currently in place.

  14. Chris Fiorentino - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    The fact is that with regards to football and basketball, the NCAA is basically slave labor. Some of these “students” do not want to be there for 1 year in basketball or the 3 ridiculous years they are required to play in football.

    Guess who needs to step forward and end this nonsense…the professional leagues themselves. The NFL and the NBA need to start minor leagues similar to baseball. They need to have guys picked out of high school if they desire and have them play in minor leagues if needed…or straight to the pros if they are good enough…a la Kobe, Lebron, etc.

    But the NFL and the NBA are not going to do that because the way it is now, they get a free look at these poor kids who have no recourse except to put their bodies at risk for the dirtbag NCAA. I love the balls on a guy like Spurrier who talks about how Clowney should play this year for SC. Really Steve? If he gets hurt, do you lose your millions? No. Does he? Maybe.

    NFL and NBA need to step up and allow kids to get drafted right out of high school. They need to start minor league systems for the kids who need it. Until that time comes, the NCAA will continue to use these kids like slave labor with the carrot of an “education” Seriously? Has anyone seen Julius Peppers transcript from NC? What a complete joke.

    • sw19womble - Feb 15, 2013 at 6:43 AM

      It’s “ridiculous” to get a college education?

      Only a small percentage of College players ever make it to the NFL. The rest have to work for a living, like the rest of us bozos.

  15. shackdelrio - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    I am surprised more kids don’t take the Brandon Jennings route and go play pro for a year in Europe and then enter the next year’s draft.

    • Raphielle Johnson - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      One thing to point out about the Jennings situation is that he had a good support system in Italy with him. Both his mother and brother were with him during that year. Question is, how many families are able to do the same? And as we saw with Jeremy Tyler, who was sent over to Japan by himself, not everyone is willing to make sure they give their kids the structure needed to do such a thing.

  16. borofamily - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    Let’s see how this plays. He gets a full ride to play basketball for 1 year, with no intentions of staying in school and the team is struggling this year. I feel his pain.

    Now contrast this with my daughter who just graduated with honors (in 4 years) from Indiana University having received a $2,000/yr scholarship from IU.

    Now she (and us, her parents) have a $120,000 student loan debt to pay back. That said she’s gainfully employed as a middle school teacher in Bloomington, IN, receiving $32,000/yr.

    And I’m supposed to get upset about how we treat athletes just passing through and soon to be a millionaire why?

    And you wonder why we have a society sliding downward.

    Think about it.

    • stlouis1baseball - Feb 13, 2013 at 2:30 PM

      Well stated Boro. One more thing…

  17. freecem3 - Feb 13, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    Injuries are a part of sports irregardless of whether you are playing a pickup game, junior high, high school, college or professional level. To conclude that the injury would have been better if he had been able to go from high school to the pros is just plain stupid. What if the kid had been driving home from a professional game got out of his car walked stepped on a rock that forced him to bend his knee at an odd angle and he tore his knee up just walking. No, I will be up front about my opinion about college sports – student athletes should not have an option to leave college sports until they have at the very least 3 years under their belt. At least after 3 years their bodies are stronger, they are more mature mentally and emotionally and hopefully they will have learned that college like life is work. If anything the student athlete has learned enough of the athletic skills necessary to be a better skilled professional athlete-this will improve professional sports. The writer was wrong, and “one and done” should be tweaked to 3 years if not 4 years. Perhaps college athlete’s graduating and getting degree’s is actually a good thing, irregardless of being drafted and going pro.

  18. bigd9484 - Feb 13, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    Life unfair for guy getting free ride to University of Kentucky. Nation Mourns.

  19. bigd9484 - Feb 13, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    A better requirement would be for the NFL/NBA/MLB to require a 2 or 4 year college degree to play. Ensure the people coming in have utilized their time wisely and graduate so that they have places to go after their pro career ends. In addition, scholarships may not be revoked from student athletes such as this guy who ends up with an injury. They are allowed to finish up (under regular academic scholarship rules) and get a degree. That way, we don’t have to worry about *boo hoo this guy didn’t get to be a millionaire like 99% of the rest of us*. We instead get *guy suffers career ending injury, but it’s all good because he still gets 3 more free years at kentucky to get a degree and be successful in life* DONE.

  20. deshackle - Feb 13, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    I wish Nerlens Noel a speedy recovery, but he’s certainly not a victim. In fact, he’s privileged. It’s an honor to play division one basketball at a school like Kentucky. I’m not a Kentucky fan nor advocate for college basketball. The NBA shouldn’t grant any young man instant gratification, no matter how tall or talented he may be. I think the NBA should institute a five year eligibility rule.

  21. meritocraticdemarchist - Feb 13, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    I don’t read the comments, so I apologize if this has already been said. One of the reasons we have so many urban black kids failing to give school an honest shot is because their basketball skills encourage a bunch of suck-ups and schemers to tell them that they’re the next Micheal Jordan. End the false hope of millions-at the expense of a few unfortunate Noels-by making college degrees mandatory for entry into the NBA. In other words, have some balls.

  22. kf257 - Feb 14, 2013 at 2:58 AM

    There is a better solution, one that would prevent the legal issues and complications that would arise from a ‘pay to play’ situation at the collegiate level, and one that is better than just dropping these fresh high school graduates into a professional-level system. Baseball has utilized this system for years, that is a professional-level, league/team-sponsored amateur league. If the players have a real problem with the one and done or the pay issue, then the NBA and the NFL need to create and operate a paid amateur league themselves. Its easy to point the finger at the NCAA, but the NBA is the organization that sustains the one and done rule. Force them to create a system that develops players, and make college athletes stay at least three years, regardless of sport. Even tailor a personal finance type degree that college athletes can earn that will help them manage their money if and when they go to the professional level. There are good solutions, but the NBA and NFL are unwilling to invest the money and time it would take to create these systems.

  23. kansas525 - Feb 14, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    Pay college atheletes? Sounds good to me. Make them sign a contract. If they sign up for 4 years, they get a certain amount per year, after taking into consideration the value of tuitiion and books, if 3, proportionally less, etc. If they sign up for 4 years and do not complete a degree, they are required to refund a portion of their pay for non-performance. If they sign for 4 years and leave prior to that, sounds like breach of contract to me, sue them and get the money back, plus interest.

  24. onlyoneleft - Feb 14, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    Education, my eye! Jadeveon Clowney can barely read.

  25. mramseymd - Feb 15, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    Mr. Dauster, you seem to have forgotten that the reason for going to college is to get an education. While you may believe it is reasonable that an 18 year-old should be able to sign a $10-15 million contract because he can play basketball, there are many of us who do not share that view. Football requires players to finish 3 years of college; I think this is much more reasonable.

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