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Scrapping the NBA’s age limit wouldn’t be a good development for the NCAA

Sep 18, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT

Mark Emmert AP

Between the ongoing lawsuits brought about by former college athletes such as Ed O’Bannon and Sam Keller, and the almost daily perception hits taken over transfers and other major issues, this offseason hasn’t been particularly kind to the NCAA. With this being the case, NCAA president Mark Emmert is in search of possible solutions that would allow the organization to maintain its “amateur” status.

During a talk on Monday in which Emmert stated that if a student-athlete was going to play at the collegiate level they’d have to be a student as well, he also made an interesting suggestion as to what those who don’t have the desire to be a student should do. The suggestion: that the select few who want to go pro should be allowed to do so directly out of high school. With the D-League able to take high school graduates (they’d be ineligible for an NBA call-up, of course) and overseas league having no such rules regarding age, there are options for those who would want to entertain such a route.

But for every Brandon Jennings who has family members with him while playing overseas (his mother and brother were with him in Rome), there’s a Jeremy Tyler who had no such support system overseas with him when he made the decision to bypass college (as well as his senior year of high school). If anything the suggestion by Emmert amounts to passing the buck, because when it comes to the pro ranks the best league (NBA) requires a player’s graduating class be a year removed before they’re eligible to play in the NBA.

And until the owners and NBPA decide that they want that rule to change, that particular avenue remains closed for prospective athletes (and given the other issues that tend to come up when the collective bargaining agreement is up for renegotiation, the draft entry rule tends to fall into the background). Would reopening that door be the solution the NCAA needs? Well such a change could spell doom for the college basketball product (especially if the NBA used the D-League as a legitimate youth development league), as noted by Andy Glockner of

If the NBA, over time, views the NCAA pipeline as less and less beneficial to its own needs, there will be more motivation for the league to explore other legitimate options to the NCAA, whether it’s really blowing out the D-League, starting club structures similar to Europe, somehow utilizing Europe’s club structures as an approved farm system, etc. Any of those options successfully pursued in full would be a long-term disaster for the NCAA. A systematic weakening and possibly eventual elimination of men’s basketball as a big-money product would essentially put it out of business.

Given the changes that have occurred in collegiate athletics over the last decade, it’s rather obvious that some changes need to be made. But does President Emmert really want the NBA to reopen its doors to high school graduates? Sure there may be many young players who would welcome the opportunity to play at the collegiate level, but without the elite prospects (if even for a year) capable of moving to the next level the overall talent level drops.

And if the on-court talent level drops, it’s only a matter of time before those lucrative television contracts lose some of their value as well.

  1. going4iton4th - Sep 19, 2013 at 7:25 AM

    Always been curious as to why the NBA doesn’t funnel more money into the D League and make it a true “minor league” system. I agree with the article—it’s all on Stern and the owners—whenever they feel like eliminating the age rule that’s what they’ll do.

    • frug - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:33 PM

      Always been curious as to why the NBA doesn’t funnel more money into the D League and make it a true “minor league” system.

      Because right now the NCAA serves the same purpose. Why pay to set up a talent development system when the NCAA does it for you free of charge?

  2. Anoesis - Sep 20, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Beyond the apparent collusion between the NBA and NCAA forcing players to choose between not playing for a year, playing for (much) less money in the D-League, or going overseas, this issue will not end up evolving in the NCAA’s favor.

    I can see the day when men’s basketball at the collegiate level isn’t much different from other sports that aren’t high-profile. Football requires much more development time than basketball for a player to be ready to go pro. The NCAA is stuck between a rock and a hard place and, at this point, I don’t see a viable solution. And with the way the NCAA has conducted itself in recent years I’m not shedding any tears for it.

    For a country that claims to value the free market, it amazes me what anti-trust exemptions allow professional sports leagues to do when it comes to suppressing the labor that is their cash cow.

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