Whether many are willing to admit it or not, the NBA plays the biggest role in helping mold college basketball into what it is and that has escalated over the last decade.
Starting in with the 2006 NBA Draft, the NBA changed its rules, no longer allowing players to go directly from high school to the league. Instead, it forced the top prospects in the country to pick a school — or another country — to play basketball in for one season before being allowed to enter their name in the draft.
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With this change to the NBA’s rules, college basketball changed as well.
These players who would otherwise be in the NBA now becomes part of the NCAA and their use of free labor to gain a profit for the non-profit organization. Their services becomes a way to market their sport and gain interest for players that wouldn’t have been anywhere near a college campus prior to this rule change.
College basketball has gained in popularity dramatically over this time period. The NCAA tournament is one of the most-watched events in the world. Some of it is for the chaos, some of it for school pride and affiliation, but one of the biggest reasons for its expanded success has revolved around these high-profile freshmen.
Schools are able to use the services of the players on the court and off of it. To see its impact on certain schools, look no further than Kentucky, a program with much prestige and history through the early 2000s before falling behind the curve a little bit.
Enter John Calipari, his recruiting and coaching style and the Wildcats are not only back in the national spotlight, the spotlight shines brightest on them.
Why? Because he brings in the freshmen each and every year and people want to see these players play at the college level, even if it is just for five or six months before they move on. No problem, because if you’re Kentucky, you’ve got another wave of freshmen coming in to take their place.
Kentucky has greatly benefited from the NBA’s one-and-done rules, and they are not alone, but the rest of college basketball has struggled to keep up. Not every major program can get upwards to five or more big-time freshmen for one season of service, have those players move on, reload and just do it over again.
Most coaches haven’t done that their entire career and aren’t too keen on changing their ways. It took Mike Krzyzewski until very recently to adapt to the style and most coaches are still hesitant to change their ways.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is also not too keen on the freshmen, or at least has soured on the idea recently.
Back in April, Delaney wrote a 12-page letter trying to sway more people into his way of thinking: making freshmen ineligible to, as he puts it, help create more of a balance between academics and athletics.
The problem Delany has is that there are very few people involved with college basketball that see this as an idea that has a leg to stand on.
CBS Sports conducted an anonimous survey with college coaches, which has become an annual thing and asked them a variety of questions. The most recent was would you support Delaney’s idea of freshmen ineligibility. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said “no.”
There’s a lot of good quotes in that survey, but Gary Parrish brings up an interesting point of his own. It’s more likely that Delany is trying to use this as a threat to the NBA to change their draft rules to either force players to stay longer than one season or re-allow high schoolers to go pro right away and bypass the one year of college, allowing programs and conferences to benefit from the players for more than one year.
As Parrish mentions, the NBA doesn’t really seem to want or need to change their draft rules. The one-and-done process has done wonders for them. It gives teams a chance to evaluate young talent on a stage other than the AAU and high school circuit that’s much more of a crap-shoot than a certainty for scouting because of the talent disparity throughout the country.
Since the NBA doesn’t need to change it’s process, Delany could be looking to force their hand by keeping the freshmen longer, which would keep them from the pros for another year. You can’t evaluate players if they can’t play, so this would, in Delaney’s theory, help college basketball more and give schools and conferences more control over the players.
However, while this idea of Delany’s doesn’t seem to be something that will become a reality any time soon, if at all, there is a possibility something similar happens to this extent. And should that happen, the NBA would either need to change its rules to get its players or keep the rules in place and let the process play out.
Adam Silver and the NBA wouldn’t need to change their draft rules, though.
This is due to the fact that if college basketball were to make freshmen ineligible, it would just help the D-League to move towards taking on the high-profile freshmen, give overseas teams a chance to sign the players for a year or give the Las Vegas Dealers of what’s to become the AmeriLeague more credibility to take on these top prospects.
These options would keep those top prospects in line to enter the draft one year after high school, get them to the NBA at the same rate and also give those players one full year of focusing on nothing but basketball, which is the ultimate goal for these players anyway, right?
In all, while Delany’s idea is to help college athletics, including himself and the conference he represents, it would only make the sport less desirable to the top prospects looking to get to the NBA quicker.
Should college hoops no longer allow freshmen to be immediately eligible and the NBA keep the rules it has in place, college basketball would suffer in terms of star power, outside interest and overall appeal to some of the top recruits.
Rather than sit out the year at school, recruits would go through any one of the three mentioned routes, continue to play and earn a paycheck. Right now, far more freshmen have turned down those offers of a paycheck than they’ve taken them because college hoops is a national and global sensation. The other options would keep them labeled as mystery players.
But that would be far easier to pass up if a) they’d have to wait another year to play on the national stage, b) they can be put into situations where they can succeed without dealing with NCAA rules and c) get paid.
While Delany’s idea isn’t anything revolutionary, there would certainly be a revolution into the death of college basketball. The idea is to help college basketball but it would only hurt it.
Essentially, college basketball will continue to be successful, but the NBA holds all the cards. They’re not going to change their draft rules now, because why would they. At this point, it’s basically up to the conferences and the schools to determine if they’re going to entertain ideas like Delaney to counter the NBA, or if they’ll continue to just sit back, accept it and move on from this.
As of now, there’s no real indication that this could become a problem nor is it an actual problem. It only becomes a problem if college basketball tries to fight back for no reason other than greed and insecurity.
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