In 2006 the NBA essentially changed its age limit from 18 to 19 during collective bargaining with its players union. This change was the result of an increasing number of high school players deciding to skip college and declare for the NBA draft. The league felt that over time this influx of players who are not ready to contribute being drafted solely on potential was bad for the long term goal of achieving parody – or at least a more level talent-playing field. The league could not expect its teams to police themselves (and risk missing the next Garnett or Kobe) so, as a business, it needed to protect its own interests. Thus the rule was born. Now, I told you that story so I could tell you this one:
Pat Forde covers college basketball for ESPN and he is a great writer working for a great company. However, his recent article about Josh Selby rubbed me the wrong way on a couple levels. For those of you who have not read his article, it can be found here.
After reading the article, which I agreed with several of the solutions that Forde and Kansas coach Bill Self had suggested, I could not help but feel as though the article’s vitriol was focused only at the NBA and did not give any blame to the bodies that are truly responsible for failings such as Selby’s. Within the article Forde states that the story of Josh Selby’s stay at the University of Kansas would: “contain every example of what is wrong with the draft age minimum in Stern’s National Basketball Association, and how it undermines the mission of higher education.“ Now, this is more than little bit off-base. The NBA’s age-limit was instituted in order to protect the integrity of the professional game which, for all of its flaws, and unlike men’s college team sports in general, at least attempts to admit and fix the parts that are not perfect. The truth is that the NCAA and many major colleges undermine the supposed mission of higher education just fine all by themselves. However, my purpose like yours is not to: “rip Selby or Kansas. It’s to rip the system.” We just differ on which system needs to be ripped. The NBA is in the entertainment business. The NCAA (not the faculty, the coaches, or the student-athletes, mind you) is also in the entertainment business, just under the guise of the mission of higher education.
Here is where Mr. Forde’s argument screams of bias against the NBA. The first claim is that: “Because Selby could not be drafted out of high school, he was forced to go to college” Of course, this is an outrageous claim. No one is forced to go to college. This is still America. If Josh Selby could not meet the academic requirements of the University of Kansas he probably should not have went there. He could have gone to a junior college or he could play professionally overseas or here in North America in a minor league. He had other options and it sounds like the University did its due diligence in helping Selby from reading the article: “The school’s basketball staff, academic support staff and compliance staff spent an enormous amount of manpower on getting the guard from Baltimore eligible. Part of it was an undertaking to determine his amateur status, but a bigger part was fighting for his academic credentials to be accepted.”
So the University put a lot of time and effort into helping a kid become a better student, do they do this for kids who cannot help to bring revenue in with their play? So since they never saw a return (read: money) on their investment then Forde concludes that: “Let’s face it: The past year was largely a waste of Selby’s time and KU’s effort.” While that may be true, and I wouldn’t argue that it isn’t, I wonder if that means that the effort wasn’t worth it? If you pull over after watching a traffic accident to help the victims only to find that they were already dead, does that mean that it was not worth stopping? Doing the right thing, regardless of how serious the situation, is not about being “worth it” it is about doing the right thing by your fellow man.
The article then points out that Selby was able to finish his time at Kansas in good academic standing. Forde then reverses course and seems to insinuate that some funny-business may have happened (the fault of KU) when he says: “If that’s true — that a borderline student out of high school was able to finish his semester’s work weeks ahead of time without attending class — then every degree the school has ever granted has been cheapened. But that’s just part of what makes the Selby story a sorry one.” So, on one hand we are subtly suggesting that he only was able to achieve his good academic standing through means that cheapen every degree every given out at the university but on the other hand the only fault that is to be given is to the NBA because, again: “The only reason Josh Selby was ever a college student was because the NBA’s age minimum of 19 forced him to be one.” That’s terrible logic. It reminds me of the movie Forrest Gump when Jenny’s boyfriend hits her and later blames it on President Johnson.
Well, again, I would like to point out that Josh Selby did not have to choose college and the University of Kansas did not have to choose to try to get Josh Selby into its program – I think that it is commendable that both parties gave it a try though because I do believe in the importance of a college degree in the cases of anyone who is not able to make it in the world of sports; its significance simply cannot be overstated. However, to blame the NBA or its early entry rule for these failures is just unfounded. And to refer to it as: “the mandated higher-education charade” is laughable beyond measure. The NCAA with its rules about not allowing student athletes to have jobs, with its BCS system of lining the pockets of as many universities as possible, with its using student athletes without compensating them with anything more than opportunity, is the biggest offender in the higher education charade. The average college athlete’s “free ride” includes thousands of dollars yearly in unpaid for expenses that some their families may not be able to afford. How much does it cost a university to add a couple kids in the back of a classroom? How would you like to get paid by your employer with lottery tickets and a membership in a pyramid scheme? I can understand the argument against simply paying kids, but the rules certainly do make hypocrites out of the NCAA and its supporters. Excuse me Mr. Kettle, are you calling me black?
In the end, I believe that some people are just not suited for the academic demands of the college lifestyle. I know it is hard to understand, but it is true. Some people, no matter how hard they work, cannot excel in the academic world. So like Forde suggests, there need to be more alternatives for kids such as Selby. This is the part where I feel that Forde’s article stopping laying unfounded blame and starts actually trying to solve the problem. He points out that: “[Selby] grew up in a stereotypical urban nightmare — violence, drugs, poverty, an unstable family situation and academic struggle was his childhood context. Nobody can blame Selby for jumping at the first available chance at a better life.” The NBA first instituted the hardship rule in 1971 because of kids just like Selby. The NBA added a separate draft for players who could display financial hardship until 1976 when underclassmen instead were forced to give up eligibility in exchange for entering the common draft. It is one thing to complain about a system and do nothing about it; it is an altogether different thing to point out a system’s flaws and actually offer an unbiased suggestion to solving them. In my opinion, Forde has a good idea about what may be the answer.
The NBA Developmental league (NBDL) currently operates in smaller market cities around the country and uses players who, to the average fan, nobody really knows. Established officially as a minor league system in 2005, as many as 20 percent of players currently in the NBA at any given time have spent time in the NBDL. Players sign with the league (not the teams) and then are drafted by a team in the NBDL draft. I would propose that the NBA adopt a system that allows kids who do not meet the age requirement (which could be raised in the new collective bargaining agreement to a level that helps it retain its level of competition, be it 21 or junior status), or cannot meet academic requirements, can sign with the NBDL and be drafted by one of its teams. After the age requirement is met the player becomes eligible for the NBA Draft just as a player from the Euroleague or any other professional league would be. There is already some precedent for players from the league being drafted in the NBA’s Draft. In 2008 Idaho Stampede guard Mike Taylor was drafted in the second round and in 2010 Tulsa 66ers forward Latavious Williams was also taken in the second round. This allows the player an opportunity to make money in the case of hardship or academic difficulty. Obviously kids can still sign overseas if an opportunity presents itself, or they can go to college.
In the end, if the NBA changes anything it will be because the change helps the NBA to achieve its own goals. The NBA does not owe the college game anything. Does it behoove both sides to work together for the common good of the game? Of course it does, but to imply that the NBA has any responsibility to the NCAA to change is nuts. Forde concludes that the NBA should: “Spare the schools from enabling a sham that makes a mockery of education. Spare the franchises from babysitting unprepared and/or immature teenagers. And spare the fans from being force-fed the big lie.” I conclude with this: 1.) the schools should have enough integrity to spare themselves from enabling the sham, 2.) the age limit already works to achieve this, and 3.) the fans are being force-fed the “big-lie” every time they watch an NCAA sanctioned event and this is no fault of the NBA.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com and on Twitter: @espn4d.
Michael Randall is an aspiring writer for NBA DraftCentral.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter: @nbadraftcentral.