As another set of fresh-faced freshman ready themselves for the rigors of the NBA Draft process, the question of the age limit has once again been thrust into the spotlight, with commissioner Adam Silver making it something he wants to tackle. Out of the players likely to be drafted in the top five, none of them spent longer than a year at college – with Australian sensation Dante Exum not even doing that. For me, the age limit should not be raised, but ended completely.
First of all, let’s take a look at the current rules as laid out by the collective bargaining agreement:
- All drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. To determine whether a player is eligible for a given year’s draft, subtract 19 from the year of the draft. If the player was born during or before that year, he is eligible.
- Any player who is not an “international player,” as defined in the CBA, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class.
These rules do a few things. Firstly, it turns the NCAA into a one-and-done proving ground. Elite players do not go to college to gain an education — they do so to try and raise their stock for the NBA and by doing so, face exploitation by the NCAA. The scholarship is seen as the payment for playing college ball, yet if a player has no intention of graduating, it loses its impact. While it could be argued that college basketball loses out because players drop out every year and teams do not have the same faces every year, the same thought must be given to the other side of the argument: The NCAA is getting free labor from potential star players, which sells tickets; boosts TV ratings and sells merchandise.
It is all a bit of a farce. For some people, college isn’t for them. And they should not be penalised for it. Brandon Jennings was the No. 1 ranked player in the ESPNU 150 and could have been a possible No. 1 pick had he been able to be drafted out of high school. Instead, he had to go to Italy to play professional ball. And yes, you could argue the experience toughened him up, but it isn’t something he should have to do. Let players make their own mistakes.
By having an age limit, you are also selling the fans short. LeBron James is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Seeing him tear it up for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the age of 19 against men was much more fun than possibly watching him playing system basketball and being knocked out of the tournament after one game (sorry, Jabari Parker). That one year LeBron might have had to play college hoops is a year lost in the NBA. As an NBA fan, I want to see the best talent in the NBA and for as long as possible. Having an age limit restricts that.
Andrew Wiggins didn’t need to go to college this year. Who is to say that a year in Bill Self’s system really developed him better than a year being in the NBA would have? Perhaps having him struggle in the NBA could have got the Canadian used to the league — thus meaning we see the prime Wiggins sooner rather than later. Now we still have to see the kid adapt to the league.
Let’s look at another sport. In the Barclays Premier League, striker Wayne Rooney debuted at 16 and immediately made an impact — scoring against the then-champions. There’s an old saying in football in my country: If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. It’s time the NBA started thinking the same.
The owners won out in the last CBA. Raising the age limit seems like another way of controlling and reducing risk for the billionaires. It is about time we put the players back in control of their own destiny. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett did OK after coming into the league straight out of high school. It’s time to end the age limit — for good.