One and done with it

Nearly everyone hates the one and done rule in college hoops. All year we've heard that it's hurt the quality of play in college basketball because there is very limited top-flight talent. That's true. While there have been an inordinate amount thrilling finishes that can be chalked up to this newfound parity, close games don't equate to good basketball. There is no better example than the 5 OT Louisville vs Notre Dame classic from Saturday night. The first 39 minutes were garbage and the overtimes weren't exactly well played despite the undeniable drama.

Now people are upset with the one and done rule for a different reason after Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel tore his ACL Tuesday night in Florida. The projected #1 pick is out for the season and his status as the #1 pick is more than up in the air. The result is people saying that the NBA is wrong for not letting Noel and others go straight to the league from high school like they used to be able to. "The NBA is preventing them from making a living." 

First and foremost this statement is patently false. The NBA is preventing players like Noel who think they're ready to make the jump to pro ball from going to the NBA, not from making a living playing basketball. Brandon Jennings didn't want to play college basketball and he went to Italy for a year before entering the NBA Draft. He still was a lottery pick when his time came to shake David Stern's hand.

Secondly, the NBA has every right to do this, just like any other company in any other industry. Chances are if you're reading this you're not an NBA player so think of whatever industry you're in. I'll use my industry for comparison's sake and me as a specific example.

The NBA is a business, just like yours

By the time I was completing my junior year in college, I was ready to be a professional radio host. In fact, I was probably better than at least half of the hosts on stations nationwide. However without my degree, I wasn't deemed ready and in fact I would have been deemed a liability having not yet taken a media law class.

If some station had taken a chance on me, there was super potential. Not being in school and getting reps daily, I could have focused solely on my craft (some would argue I did this anyway and to hell with my schoolwork...hi mom!) and grown at a much faster rate than I was. As long as I avoided getting the station sued, it could have easily been a worthwhile investment. It would have been a risk for me not having a degree to fall back on (although, unlike a basketball player my degree would have been in my industry, not something else) but the general accepted standard of broadcast journalism is you have a degree and are of a certain age before you start working as a professional.

Even now, as I'm on the job hunt again, networks like ESPN and CBS have determined that I'm not ready for that stage yet. I don't have the experience. I'm not old enough. I haven't seen enough.

So why is the NBA, the highest level of professional basketball that exists, any different? It's not. Which is why the one and done rule is stupid. It should be two years, when kids have really had a chance to develop, get some bumps and bruises in the college game (or overseas) and are mature enough to handle the independence of NBA life.

The correct rebuttal against this argument is not "LeBron James was ready for the NBA." The correct rebuttal is "if ESPN thought you were ready, they could hire you while the NBA couldn't hire Nerlens Noel." I understand that and fully acknowledge that many high school players have gone on to great NBA careers. From KG to Kobe to Lebron, the examples are there and of course there are also the examples guys who have been mediocre (Sebastian Telfair) or worse (Ndubi Ebi anyone?).

So why is the rule fair? Sports owners have long proven they can't help themselves when it comes to potential. No matter how a CBA is written, owners will find ways to hand out stupid contracts. Why did NBA owners push so hard for shorter contracts in the last negotiations? Because that way when they handed out stupid contracts, they would only kill their franchises for a half a decade instead of a full one. Hell, they had the amnesty clause so they could get out of a bad contract entirely (at least in terms of the salary cap) because there were so many they had already given out.

The Proof

The more time there is to evaluate a player, the less mistakes you'll make so the one and done rule serves as a safety net for the NBA to make more educated investments. Don't believe me? Here are the #1 overall picks since 2007 when the rule took hold: Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. The only bust? Oden who's bust is totally injury related and 1000% magnified by the fact that the guy picked after him was Kevin Durant.

The honest truth is, there have been very few high school guys who have been ready for the NBA. Plenty have had great careers, but with the exception of LeBron, most weren't ready to contribute right away. Making a James go to school for a year and risking they get hurt happens far less than a Kwame Brown coming through where you don't really know what you're getting into.

Want further proof? Fab Melo would have been a top 10 if not top 5 pick purely on potential coming out of school. Scouts needed one year at Syracuse to see he wasn't ready. The same with Dion Waiters whose years under Jim Boeheim helped him come into the NBA ready to contribute and likely on a better career trajectory than if he hadn't been straightened out on the hill. 

Would these two have been better off toiling away on an NBA bench or playing college ball? Unquestionably the latter. While it may have cost them two years of salary, going to school was better for both of their careers and that has nothing to do with their education. This means you can skip the Fab Melo jokes.

Players Play, Owners Own

At the end of the day, it's the owners’ league and they get to make the rules. The players can fight for their rights, but what qualifies you to work is something set by the employer in any industry. It's why the 19-year-old age limit exists and why David Stern wants it upped to 20. Believe it or not, there's a massive jump from playing 20 games against dudes many of whom I could run with in high school to 82 against the best in the world.

Do I feel bad for Noel? Of course. By nearly any account he’s a great kid and there’s a chance he just lost a few million. However this doesn’t make me mad at the NBA for not letting him play. While this overall argument is admittedly up for debate, “who are we made at?” when it comes to Noel shouldn’t be.

We should be mad at the NCAA – the organization that allowed the stanchion Noel ran into to be so close to the court and isn’t paying him a dime. This of course is despite the millions of dollars he’ll make for Kentucky and the “non-profit organization” that they are.

As for Noel, he should quit Kentucky’s team and hire an agent today. There are no rules prohibiting him from rehabbing at Kentucky if he’s not a part of the team and since he’s not going to put on a Wildcat uniform again, he might as well get the best treatment and advice he can. Sound wrong? Feel wrong? If David Stern had his way, that wouldn’t be an option because Noel would be back next year and couldn’t give up his eligibility.

In the end, it's a really dicey issue because athletes have such a limited window for maximizing their earning potential. There's a very strong argument to be made for letting a high school kid make the jump because cutting a year or two off his NBA career means cutting a significant percentage off his max earning potential. Cutting a year off a 10-year career is 10%. That's a lot.

However the NBA is making major investments in these players and they have every right to set the minimum working requirements for their company. It's the elite of the elite. They should have standards.

Now getting mad at the NCAA? I'm all for that.