A recent report from Shams Charania indicates that the NBA and NBAPA are discussing lowering the age limit from 19 to 18 (subscription required). Were that to happen, it would be just the latest change by the NBA that undermines NCAA Men’s College Basketball.
While that may be unintentional, it does help the NBA and hurt NCAA Men’s College Basketball, which is actually more of a rival than a partner at this point. After all, there appears to be very little overlap among fans, despite it being the same sport, so the NBA has little to lose and a lot to gain.
The NBA’s changes are beginning to impact college basketball.
Aside from the proposed lowering of the age limit, the NBA’s G League has finally become a true farm system. Teams can now send young players down to get additional coaching and playing time, as well as call up players who’ve proven themselves.
This has led to the addition of two two-way roster spots, which has increased the number of second-round picks and undrafted free agent rookies making a team. With a real shot of making a roster and a place where they can prove themselves, staying in college doesn’t make as much sense as it once did for non-first-round prospects.
Some of those players sign with the G League directly, or after signing an Exhibit 10 contract, which is basically a make-good contract that usually comes with some guaranteed money. The G League pays at least $37,000 a season, which is better than the NCAA’s offer of nothing. Also, the Exhibit 10 contract guarantees could add as much as $50,000 to that total, while two-way contracts could be closer to $500,000.
We’ve also seen an increase in elite prospects skipping college altogether and signing with the G League Ignite. This is mainly due to financial opportunities such as signing special one-year select contracts worth as much as $500,000 as well as endorsement deals. As a result, the Ignite has become the de facto G League team for top young prospects looking for an alternative to the NCAA.
They’ve gotten some big prospects too, including former number two overall pick Jalen Green and this year’s number eight pick, Dyson Daniels. In total, they’ve had seven players selected in the last two drafts, three of whom were lottery picks, but that doesn’t include Scoot Henderson. Henderson is in his second season with the Ignite and is projected to be the number two pick in one of the best drafts in recent years.
The NBA is right to focus on making changes, even if they negatively impact the game.
Between the G League Ignite serving as a paid alternative for top young prospects and the NBA lowering the age limit, the NCAA will go from seeing some top talent to getting virtually none. Without the one-year rule forcing players to go to college, the likes of Zion Williamson, Karl Anthony-Towns, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Anthony Davis would likely have gone straight to the NBA or even the G League Ignite.
Without players like them going to college, even for one season, that will surely hurt college basketball ratings and revenue while helping boost interest in the NBA. Having a top prospect go straight to the NBA cuts out the middleman and allows teams to reap the benefits of those players sooner. After all, would players like Durant, Davis, and Irving be any less impactful right out of the gate if they hadn’t spent a few months playing college basketball? Probably not.
They would, however, have immediately helped an NBA team. As for the teenagers that aren’t ready to immediately contribute, the G League is the perfect place for them to develop, and that wasn’t something that was available the last time the NBA’s age limit was set at 18.
All in all, with the NBA reportedly looking to lower the age limit, the emergence of the G League Ignite, and the G League itself, has already hurt or will hurt college basketball. On the other hand, it will only help the NBA, which is what ultimately matters.