Europe vs. College and why the NBA does not care

This whole Brandon Jennings story hasn't surprised me at all. Everyone HAD to know that this was bound to happen. When NBA passed the rule that one must be 19 years old to enter the draft, everyone immediately knew the benefits, repercussions, and motives of the rule.

General history and overview:Professional sports lives off of young talent, with the majority, coming from drafts and farm systems. Each player is a huge investment to the team, so it makes sense when leagues like the NFL and the NBA make age-eligibility rules. The NFL has less of a problem with guys coming into the league unprepared because with a few exceptions, football players need those two years out of high school to develop physically and mentally for the rigors of the NFL. The NBA is a much different type of system. Players can make the jump into the league without college experience. The players who are capable of that are the ones who can thrive solely off of talent. Success stories of this method are players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudamire, Lebron James and Tracy McGrady, just to name a few. Those players are all household names. Those player's quick success in the league paved the way for many extremely talented high school stars to think they could make the jump to the NBA. Unfortunately, that dream for most players is fools gold. Players flop far more often than reach the status of the aforementioned superstars. Flops have included Sebastian Telfair, Kwame Brown, Gerald Green, Martell Webster, and you could even make the argument for Daryll Dawkins, the first player to be taken out of high school who is commonly cited as the player who will always be judged on his dunks and mediocre career than what he was supposed to be. All of those players were lottery picks, and Kwame Brown was the much heralded #1 pick. The latter named players have had character issues and seldom have the work ethic to live up to their potential and make it as a star in the league (Kwame Brown was said to have been more interested in his Xbox than working out and learning plays). None of those players panned out to what they were supposed to be. Yeah sure, some of them are still in the NBA, but they wont be for much longer, and if they are, it won't be in a role they were projected to be.

If you don't belive the character issues, here is Telfair getting into trouble two times that can be traced back to poor decision making.

And here is a video of Darius Miles getting busted with a friend for pot. In the background you can hear Darius Miles scream, when the officer tells them to get on the ground, "But I'm Darius Miles!"

The NBA team and league's perspective: Stern had been thinking about making an age requirement for years. He constantly spoke of his 'worry' that he saw so many young high school players foregoing college and putting their name in the draft. The nightmare scene that Stern painted of agents lurking middle-school campuses and promising players and their families a fantasy life and urging their clients to not attend college and hire them for their services was a motivation for the age rule. That was a noble move by the NBA. A possible "NBA Cares" campaign, however, that was not what the rule was intended to do at all. Stern's worry then changed to an admittance that the rule is for teams to have a year to evaluate a player before investing in his services. It is, basically, a 6 month workout farm system. NBA scouts are able to evaluate and collaborate about players and judge their performance under a plethora of different circumstances including the biggest pressure cooker, the NCAA tournament. The bottom line, it benefits the NBA from a basketball and financial standpoint. Under the new rule, players can go to Europe and NBA scouts have the same benefits as they would get if the player were to stay in the States and play. Bottom line is that the NBA and their teams are not impacted by whatever the player chooses.

The NCAA perspective: The NCAA feeds off of big name future NBA stars coming into top programs in the country. They use these stars to attract endorsements and fans into stadiums. We are enamored by the prospect of seeing players like O.J Mayo and Michael Beasley, future NBA player and potential superstar, live up to the hype and carry the Trojans and Kansas State, respectively, to victory at a generously priced ticket. Suddenly, fans don't care if they which team they are rooting for. They have come to see the big time player play for a big time school. It is the marketing of superstars that fans into stadiums which is contradictory to the team philosophy the NCAA tries to promote, but it brings in revenue. It is the same formula the NBA uses and the NCAA does not mind to have players that help foster this attitude. Fans want to catch a glimpse of the next best thing, and the NCAA couldn't be happier to display it. It is a piggy back system that both leagues benefit from. Of course, the NCAA is never consulted about decisions from professional leagues, but it rarely impacts or works against the NCAA, until now. The NCAA has gotten an eye opening case with Jennings. They could potentially lose one of the top players in the country to European basketball. This could be a slippery slope for the NCAA as more players follow Jennings. There are drawbacks and benefits on both sides of the debate, but it is almost certain that the NCAA likes the idea of marketing young future NBA stars. If Jennings starts a trend, and is not the exception, this could put the NCAA back to where it was before the rule started.

The college coach's perspective: Bob Knight was one of the most outspoken critics of the age rule. His argument is very valid. Players who come to college knowing they are good enough for the NBA do not embody what the NCAA preaches. That is, the student-athlete exceeding in the classroom while exceeding on the sporting field. It becomes a sort of athlete purgatory for these players, simply to wait it out until they are eligible to make a jump to the league. Knight argues that players need only average a 2.0 during the first semester and do not even need to go to class the next semester because their ineligibility will not be in effect until the following semester when they have already left. To further Knight's argument, the program of the school is undermined because players are not playing the team game that is so coveted in college, and as many fans cite, the reason they prefer college ball to pro ball, is lost. Players go into college and instead of playing for their team, play for their NBA contract and put their skills on display more often than making the right move. This may not always be true, but it is definitely a potential side effect from the rule.
It also keeps the coach and program in a constant state of limbo from year to year, and fans as well as administration do not know what to expect from year to year. Will the player who didn't live up to the hype stay? Does this mean we have more scholarships and roster spots? What about endorsements? And now, coaches can still lose players like they were before the rule was instated and players can make commitments and just go to Europe, just like they would break commitments and go to the NBA before the rule. The one benefit to coaches and college programs was that players would honor their commitments, or so they thought. Under the current rule, players like Telfair and Johnson can still snub Louisville (or whatever school) and go to Europe (ask Rick Pitino if you need more clarification). Stability is generally the best way to build a winning team. Putting your program on the shoulder of a one-year-and-out player with dreams of the NBA does not sound like a stable prospect.

The players perspective: A top ranked player faces a choice out of high school since the conception of the age rule. Do I go to college or Europe? The question that should be asked by the program that recruited the top player is, "What if that player does not meet NCAA requirements?" It is a very real hypothetical that Jennings could be the first player to possibly pioneer: the world of European basketball before the NBA. The rationale is simple. The players can make a good salary abroad while still showcasing their skills, and then return for the draft. For a young player with dreams of NBA riches, it is easy to settle for an $800,000 salary with a European team. The European teams don't have a shortage of players, and the couple hundred thousand dollar rental fee is minimal compared to what they make in return.

The end result is this. Jennings will not be the last player to be exploring the lure of European basketball before making the jump into the NBA. The NBA does not care what a player chooses because their underlying goal is to evaluate players and have a better look before investing in the player. The NBA front offices and the administration will ultimately get what they want no matter what the player chooses. The player gets what he wants and so does the team. If the player doesn't live up to his expectation maybe NBA teams will be more willing to forgive that and blame it more on the European style of play than the player himself. In the end, the real losers here are the NCAA, the programs, and fans. Of course, the NCAA can't make players stay for the duration of their eligibility, so I guess they have to continue living in a state of uncertainty and let the Brandon Jennings' of the world dictate the future of college basketball.


This is an excellent draft article that is informative as well as humorous.

Why Michael Beasley might drop in the draft like Amare Stoudamire did. If the Heat are smart, they will have learned from Stoudamire's case, and not screw this up.

You want to be in the draft? You want to be in the NBA and NFL? Well, here is why you can't be.

What is the reason no one in this year's draft has a shoe deal yet? Darren Rovell, has an answer for that.

NBA Draft Thursday, June 26th, 2008 at Madison Square Garden. Can be seen on ESPN at 7pm EST.

Picture Sources: brandonjennings.net (first), scout.com (second), arcadia.edu (third), weblogs.newsday.com (fourth)


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