Age restrictions in the National Basketball Association have been an ongoing issue for some years now.  As we approach NBA Draft time, it’s worth re-opening the book on this one and having a look. Commissioner David Stern has made it clear that he does not want 18 year-olds in the league and would like them to spend a number of years in the NCAA college system to prepare them for the rigours of a professional league.

Of course, there are a number of perspectives that can be taken on these restrictions. You could summise that Stern has made these rules in order to either (a) improve the standard of play in the sport by eliminating players that are too raw and unready for the game at a pro level; (b) as suggested by some, through mutual agreement with the NCAA, forcing players to attend college is a way to push some revenues back to colleges — “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”; or (c) give kids that don’t make it (and even those that do) an avenue to set up a career outside of basketball should the need arise at some point, through a solid education.

The “one-and-done” rule that has been instituted means that players must be at least one year out of high school and 19 years old, in order to enter the NBA draft. The rule was brought into place in 2006 to stem the flow of raw, potential-laden players, who were apparently diluting the quality of the NBA and correspondingly robbing the NCAA of appropriate talent. The rule has meant that a gauntlet of players will attend college for one year, largely ignoring the merits of their studies, with an eye to jumping to the NBA after two semesters of “college education.”

Is this rule the best thing for the NBA? As far as I can see it, the benefits of the one-and-done rule are:

  • Some players that would not have otherwise, will gain the chance to commence a college education
  • Players will enter the NBA better prepared, after going through one year of college coaching, adding structure to their game and affording them more playing time than they likely would get in the NBA
  • The NCAA system is enriched with talent that it would otherwise not have access to — if only for one year.

On the other hand, the disadvantages of the current one-year rule include:

  • Putting the NCAA system into a constant state of flux as star players enter the ranks and then leave a year later, to be potentially be replaced by a new crop of stars that will move on — in some cases creating players that are one year mercenaries, getting paid benefits to play a year at a college, as is alleged with OJ Mayo
  • Enforcing restrictions to employment that many would deem unconstitutional or unjust, given that many other sports (see golf, tennis) do not have similar restrictions and given the fact that Americans can enter military service at the age of 18 (creating a strange contradiction)
  • Taking away college scholarships that could otherwise be awarded to students who are interested in an education
  • The potential disruption to studies of other students, caused by the movement of sports stars who are not interested in being in classes.

Are there other pros and cons that I have missed? Please add them in the comments section.

On other fall-out from this situation is the movement of players to Europe. We’ve already seen Brandon Jennings circumvent Stern’s desire to see players go through the college system, by “taking the money and running” to Europe — scoring a high-paying contract to play in Italy with the intention of one day returning to play in the NBA. More recently we saw the example of Jeremy Tyler, a high school junior who skipped his senior year to play in Europe — getting paid sooner and avoiding the merry-go-round of trying to attain the required marks to play in the US system.

A shift of talent to Europe is nothing but a good thing for basketball in general, I would argue. Gaining exposure to European playing styles can only add to the array of talents of American players that are increasingly realising that this is a global game — not one limited to North America. In addition, being taken under the wing of pros in Europe can be beneficial to the mental development of players. You can never be tought too early how best to conduct yourself like a professional. The numerous players from other countries in the world that have grown through their country’s professional system, to enter the NBA as already polished young men, are perfect examples of the benefit of this type of move. In addition, the opportunity to pick up some European culture can not be a bad thing at all — an opportunity they may not have again for some years after they become pro players in the NBA.

The topic of age restrictions in the NBA has been a popular one, with all manner of journalists, players, former-players and bloggers voicing their opinion on the matter. This video has a range of viewpoints, including those of Dick Vitale and Oscar Robertson:

What do you think? Should the NBA keep the current one-and-done rule? Should they abolish this restriction to employment? Or on the contrary, should the age restriction be increased to two or more years of non-NBA experience before entering the big leagues? Leave your comments below.