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The NBA Age Limit

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Caulton Tudor offers up some thoughts on the NBA age limit based primarily on some things Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had to say about it in a (rare) press conference with the local media. The rule enacted last years states that a player must be 19 years old before declaring for the NBA draft. Since most high schoolers graduate at 18, these players all sign up for college which in many cases will be a one year stint. Coach K has expressed misgivings about the rule:

"Frankly, I'd rather have it the way it was ... or have it [a mandatory] two years in college." Krzyzewski said. "Nobody has to go through this thing of 'I think I want to go to school' when they really don't."

I find myself agreeing with Krzyzewski on this issue (yeah it is bothering me too). This has created a system where players will simply pretend they are going to school when it turns out to be only for one year. It has created a in-between class of players who simply have no other option but to go to college even though all it is for them is a one year prep schools which is exactly what Tudor forsees.

A small number of desperate colleges will convert their programs into elaborate prep schools or AAU operations, specializing in one-year wonders. For one or two of those schools, it'll be a case of high-risk and high-victory reward.

The potential harm also extends to the players. Some of the top-rated high school players will go pro after one season regardless of their college success. A few within that group may even get drafted, but most won't. The biggest miscalculations probably will be made by the high school superstars who were overrated in the first place. Those players will see themselves as the players they were, not the players they are.

The calculation of a player's stock is a tricky process which does not always result in immediate returns. The buzzword most draft analysts like to use now is "upside." In 2005 all anyone could talk about is how much upside UNC's Marvin Williams had and I am sure he will turn into a good player as his career moves forward but the upside talk will undoubtedly lead to some bad decisions from players who read their own press.

And it really should be no surprise that the rule will cause the NCAA some problems since, as Krzyzewski pointed out, it was not designed to help these players or college teams but rather it was a compromise in the midst of a labor dispute. We should go ahead and drop all manner of pretense here. NBA Commissioner David Stern does not care about the NCAA or colleges in general. Stern may say he does and he may claim that he wants a equitable agreement that will be beneficial to the NBA and the NCAA but let's be real here. Stern is the NBA Commisioner and his only concern is how the influx of younger, possibly ill-prepared players may be affecting the quality of the product he is marketing. Stern was well aware that the NBA was being heavily criticized for the kind of play being seen on the court and how it was reflective of too many young and underdeveloped players making it to the league from high school. At the same time Stern did not want to restrict some of the really good young talent from coming in so he struck a compromise with the Player's Association which called for essentially a one year waiting period. One year is a win for the NBA management because they get to evaluate the talent on the college level and the players get one year to act and react in more real world situations. The PA was happy because it basically slowed down the influx of players who were costing older, already due paying union members positions/salary. Meanwhile the NCAA got screwed.

As a UNC fan this is all going to hit very close to home come next April when as many as five of UNC's freshman will mull the decision to go pro or not after only one year. UNC's class was so highly rated that some of them would not have been suiting up in Carolina blue this winter because they would have been drafted into the NBA this past June. The age limit changed their plans and they stuck with their committments to UNC. Only time will tell whether or not they will be there longer than this season.

The system is wrong pure and simple. Tudor points out that the baseball system may be a better fit where players either choose the draft out of high school or a three year wait before being eligible again. Krzyzewski has advocated a two year limitation. I think reducing the baseball system to two years and applying it in the NBA may be the best fit considering the number of players who are ready to go pro after their sophomore season. Sure some rising sophomores will have to wait an extra year leading to whining about how unfair it is they have to wait. But, a handful of players should not be more important than either the NBA or the NCAA who would both benefit from players staying in school longer.

Then again unless you can prove to David Stern and the NBA Player's Accsociation that it will make them more money and benefit the players already playing there is no chance it will ever happen.

And I promise never to agree with both Krzyzewski and Tudor in the same post ever again.