The NBA’s Stupid Draft Rule: It’s Time for a Change

1 Jan

The NBA has a stupid rule that high school seniors cannot directly enter its draft. They must, instead, play one year of college ball or professionally overseas. Not only does this deprive these players of at least one year of NBA-level income; it also risks these players getting injured without ever making it to the world’s top basketball league in the first place.

The arguments behind the NBA’s rule are lacking. For one, a single year of college ball will not give players added maturity that will ultimately make them more successful and long-lasting NBA players. Blue chip recruits arrive on-campus as royalty and never, for even one day, have a “normal” college existence. School is clearly a brief holding point before these players make their way to the pros. Their focus is not classes; it is getting better so that they can earn a higher draft pick and augment their contract and endorsement earning potential.

Second, the argument that a year of college or foreign pro ball will help scouts assess players’ skills and avoid high-school-to-the-NBA busts is disingenuous. Why should players be penalized for NBA scouts’ inability to do their jobs? If a scout cannot assess a player’s true skills via their high school or AAU play, that is the scout’s fault, not the player’s. And, ultimately, it is a franchise’s choice whether or not to draft and sign them. We live in a free market, and teams’ decisions to take a chance on young players are essentially akin to those of venture capitalists investing in a fresh, exciting, but unproven business. Sometimes, the investment pays off big; other times, it won’t. That’s just the risk that investors take in a free-market economy. Why should the NBA – a business – be any different? It shouldn’t.

Meanwhile, the costs of the NBA’s misguided draft rule, and the reasons to overturn it, are serious. First of all, it costs a tremendous amount in terms of foregone income. Many, and probably most, players with the potential to jump from high school to the NBA are African Americans from low- or lower-middle-income backgrounds. They often come from families who live in precarious economic conditions and could benefit tremendously, in terms of living standards, from their kin’s ability to generate wealth as a basketball superstar. The minimum salary for an NBA rookie is just shy of $500,000 (and most players who jumped from high school to the pros made considerably more than the minimum). Delaying prep standouts’ arrival in the NBA by one year effectively robs them of at least half a million dollars and, in many cases, prolongs their families’ precarious economic existence. Hence, the moral unsoundness of the draft rule.

Second, the rule creates the risk that players will injure themselves in college and never be able to make it to the pros. Even if a rookie NBA player suffered a career-ending injury, he would still almost certainly have a guaranteed one-year salary, which, at around $500k, could easily finance the most expensive college education three times over, and help him position himself for another, well-paying trade. Plus, if a player injures himself as a college freshman, there is a serious risk that his school will cut-off his scholarship, not only quashing his NBA future but also preventing him from completing his college degree. How is this not worse than a rookie flaming out of the NBA with a knee injury but with $500k in his pocket to fund college studies?

Finally, from a fan’s perspective, we want to see the best and brightest stars as soon as possible! Arbitrarily keeping players in college or abroad for one year does little if anything to prepare them for the big time, meanwhile depriving the NBA of intense competition that could help expand the fan base. And, if the goal is to help blue chips mature, why not keep them in school for two years, or three? Hell, let’s make them graduate from college before turning pro.

Some will argue that that is actually the best idea of all. But depriving the world’s best young basketball players of maximum time in the league helps no one except for the colleges that are able to exploit their talents to sell tickets and merchandise. If the NBA truly wanted to act in the interest of young players, it would do away with its misguided draft rule.

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2 Responses to “The NBA’s Stupid Draft Rule: It’s Time for a Change”

  1. abc January 15, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    This is one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve seen in years.

    • dbalke23 January 23, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      What do you mean?

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