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The NBA will consider lowering the draft age cap to 18

The days of the league forcing prospects to play college basketball might be coming to an end.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Auburn vs North Carolina Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Since it was implemented in 2005, the NBA’s 19-year age minimum for entrants into its Draft has been one of the foremost topics of conversation among people who follow college basketball and recruiting. More commonly known as “one-and-done,” it’s a rule that’s generated a lot of strong opinions over the past 17 years. And, as the league and the NBA Players’ Association enter their second bargaining cycle for the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement since current commissioner Adam Silver took over, it might well be on its way out. Shams Charania of The Athletic Tweeted on Monday that the two sides are “in serious talks” on lowering the Draft’s age requirement to 18, which would allow most prospects to enter the league right out of high school. Such a change could happen as soon as the 2024 Draft, and seems likely: in the linked article, which requires an Athletic subscription, Charania goes so far as to say “The NBA and NBA Players Association are expected to agree on moving the age eligibility for the NBA Draft from 19 to 18.”

While it’s polarizing for the college faithful (and the arguments on both sides would constitute another article in and of themselves), there’s no questioning that OAD has been a good rule for the NBA. Players who would have otherwise entered the league right away get forced into a season-long vetting process through college basketball, giving teams a wealth of extra information to draft with. UNC’s gotten firsthand tastes of this over the years; perhaps no more obviously than in the case of Justin Jackson. And it’s been good for current NBA players, who have one fewer class of players to worry about taking their jobs every year. Given that, it’s a pretty big deal that the NBAPA has been pushing the league on this issue as long and as hard as they have been, considering their future members’ welfare just as much as that of their current members — probably helped by members who were participants in the one-and-done system and want others to have the power to avoid it if it’s not for them. Since Silver took the commissioners’ seat, one of the marks of his player-friendly image has been his express willingness to end the rule, in a stark turnaround from his predecessor David Stern, and now, with a full contract cycle under his belt, it seems he might oversee exactly that happening.

Ultimately, whatever your thoughts on the OAD era, I think you can only think of this rule change, if it goes through, as a good thing for the sport we love. The ability to go pro out of high school would offer players who want or need it the chance to be professionals as soon as possible, whether out of self-confidence or a need to provide for their families or anything else, and college coaches won’t have to spend time and resources fruitlessly recruiting them — we’ve seen UNC often be stuck in the awkward position of not being able to not recruit elite talent, but also not really being able to sell the kind of 1-year NBA pipeline that Duke and Kentucky have offered, and the hope is that this change would make that less of a thing. And thankfully, the proposition is not like the baseball rule, which a consistent faction of people have been advocating for as long as OAD has been a thing but really only makes sense for the sport it’s used in. Sometimes, like with Coby White, it makes sense to leave after a year, just like sometimes it makes sense to not go through college or to leave after two or three years. If a player’s ready, they’re ready. This change, I think, would allow the sport of college basketball to strike a balance between protecting high-level college ball from being an NBA farm system and understanding that high-level college players want to be professionals. My fingers are crossed nothing gets in its way.