Reality Check for NBA One-Year Rule

On the eve of the second draft since the NBA instituted the rule that requires players to be one year removed from high school to enter the NBA draft, Brandon Jennings, a prospective Arizona recruit, is on the verge of opening up an entirely new loophole to the process.

Advocates of the one-year rule for educational reasons – kids get one year of the college experience and go to class for an education – have been fooling themsleves from the start. Instead of entering straight from high school, prospects attend college for one year – or better yet, one basketball season – on what amounts to a basketball internship. They take one semester of classes to remain eligible, not caring what the classes are. Once the season ends, school goes in the rear view mirror as they head to spend their days training for draft workouts and pre-draft camps.

All the players that would have went pro straight from high school have become one-and-done college players. They have ZERO interest in school, and even less interest in academics. The entire OJ Mayo controversy is avoided without this rule. He never wanted to step foot on a college campus, but if he has to he must have figured the least he could do is recoup some of the money he is missing out on.

Jennings is about to take this to another level. Struggling with eligibility requirements for Arizona, he is investigating playing one year overseas to fulfill his requirement for entering the NBA draft. It’s what the NBA asked for when they made this rule. Similar to the NFL, its not a year of college (or 3 years in the case of football), it’s one year removed from high school. No restrictions on how that year is spent. In fact, Jennings tact is appropriate. Why force athletes with no intentions to study or graduate to attend school. It undermines the entire academic process, ridicules the concept of student-athlete. It’s not fair to the true student-athletes, and to the rest of the students – of which I was once one at Syracuse University, watching athletes sitting right next to me in class receive extreme preferential treatment.

The NBA needs to address the situation in one of two ways. If the intent of the rule is to actually promote attending class and educating players prior to a professional career, institute a class credit or GPA (obviously an attainable one) requirement for entry to the draft. Obviously that method will not go far, proving the rule has nothing to do with pushing students to attend school. A more reasonable approach is to expand the NBADL into a formal minor-league feeder program. ESPN reports that Jennings does have the option of playing in the D-League to fulfill his one year, with the only restriction that he can’t be called up to an NBA team. The league should setup a scaled down version of the baseball system, where players can hone their skills after high school before entering the draft, and where teams can send young players under contract that need further development. Make the D-League a true feeder system.

An ancillary benefit is the league will benefit at the box office and eventually with TV contracts if it can attract prep stars with NBA dreams. Taken a step further, with improved competition, and presumably more revenue, the D-League can try to lure young European stars with NBA aspirations. Teams can then get an up-close look at how Euro talent stacks up against the best prep stars, and the D-League can serve as another layer to mitigate draft mistakes.

If Jennings takes the European or NBDL path, the league must address the issue immediately before it snowballs into more negativity and court cases that the NBA can’t afford at this time, with the Donaghy situation. Having players mature for another year before entering the high-flying life of the NBA is the essence of the one-year rule – not education – now the NBA needs to get more creative in implementing it to fulfill that goal. A series of life seminars or “classes” specifcally to prepare for NBA life, in conjunction with playing in the D-League may be the answer.

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