When federal investigators uncovered rampant bribery and corruption in college basketball last September, NCAA president Mark Emmert responded by assembling a committee to come up with ideas for how to fix the sport.
Seven months later, the centerpiece of the commission on college basketball’s list of suggestions was a recommendation that will hurt the sport more than help it.
Calling upon the NBA to abolish the one-and-done rule isn’t the magic cure-all that Condoleezza Rice touted it as on Wednesday morning. She’s right that those players “are the focus of agents, apparel companies, investment advisers, college coaches and others seeking to profit from their skills,” but that attention is hardly exclusive to them.
The FBI alleged that Adidas funneled $100,000 to the family of McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen in exchange for his commitment to Louisville last summer. Bowen, Rivals.com’s No. 21 prospect, was not considered a likely one-and-done player before the scandal jeopardized his college eligibility.
Same goes for Silvio De Sousa, the Kansas big man that the FBI has alleged was at the center of a bidding war between Adidas and another shoe-apparel giant. He averaged 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds coming off the bench as a freshman for the Jayhawks and is not certain to start as a sophomore either next season.
Remove the dozen best freshmen from college basketball each year, and the competition would merely get more fierce for the players ranked 13th and below. Does anyone really believe cheating wasn’t common in college basketball before 2006 when prospects could make the leap straight from high school to the NBA?
In reality, none of the commission’s recommendations will halt the river of dirty money flowing through college basketball because Rice and her fellow committee members failed to strike at the basic inequity at the heart of the matter. Elite college players are valuable commodities to coaches, universities, agents and shoe-apparel giants, yet the NCAA’s deeply flawed amateurism model prohibits them from receiving money beyond a scholarship.
As long as that divide exists, so will a black market.
Coaches under pressure to make the NCAA tournament to keep their jobs will still try to attract top talent by any means necessary. Shoe-apparel companies who pay tens of millions of dollars to prominent universities will still steer prospects to their affiliated schools in hopes of protecting their investments. Agents and financial advisers eager to land potential clients will still pay for the influence of people in a prospect’s inner circle.
The NCAA can’t bend the laws of economics. It can only decide whether it prefers those transactions to be aboveboard or to take place in secret.
If ending college basketball’s one-and-done era wouldn’t solve the problems exposed by the FBI, then why would the NBA abolish the rule and why would NCAA leaders keep pushing for its eradication? This is a rule with no downside for the NBA and more benefits than drawbacks for college basketball.
One advantage for the NBA is that scouts have an easier time evaluating prospects who have played at least a year in college than they do players jumping directly from high school. Not only are one-and-dones another year closer to reaching their prime, scouts also typically get more chances to evaluate them against stronger competition.
It’s also good for the NBA that one-and-dones arrive more prepared for pro basketball physically and emotionally than high school prospects often do. The league also benefits from the attention elite prospects receive in college, transforming them from largely anonymous to the average fan in high school to household names by the time the draft arrives.
For college basketball, the product on the floor is undeniably better and more interesting with the one-and-done. Whether it’s Kevin Durant at Texas, Greg Oden at Ohio State or Anthony Davis at Kentucky, one-and-done prospects have produced some of the most memorable seasons in recent college basketball history.
There are some one-and-dones who have made a mockery of the educational aspect of college basketball, but that is not the norm. For every hired gun who treats his lone year of college as an obstacle to be endured, there are other elite NBA-bound prospects who immerse themselves in the college experience for however long they’re on campus.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the longtime NBA forward who turned pro in 1996 after one season at California, took classes from his alma mater sporadically throughout his 13-year NBA career and earned a degree in sociology in 2012. Durant, Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony are among the prominent former one-and-dones who valued their time at their alma mater so much that they have since made large donations.
The only good argument for ending the one-and-done rule is that it’s unfair to players. A prospect who is good enough to be selected in the NBA draft out of high school should have that option rather than playing for a scholarship in college or for pennies in the G-League.
That’s not the primary reason the commission on college basketball wants to lower the NBA’s age limit though. Rice and her fellow committee members are apparently so certain that eliminating the one-and-done can help eradicate corruption in college basketball that they actually threatened to try to force the NBA’s hand.
“We must emphasize that only the NBA and the NBPA can change the one-and-done rule,” Rice said. “If they choose not to do so by the end of 2018, the NCAA must still find a way to address this situation. In that circumstance, the Commission will reconvene and consider the other tools at its disposal. These could range from the baseball rule, to freshman ineligibility, to “locking up” scholarships for three or four years if the recipient leaves the program for the NBA after a single year.”
Freshman ineligibility? Great idea, folks.
In its illogical zeal to get rid of a dozen one-and-dones per year, the commission on college basketball is apparently prepared to needlessly punish hundreds of other freshmen.
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