Arizona Wildcats F DeAndre Ayton (Photo via Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
This past June, the NBA shattered another draft night record when 16 players who had only played their freshman year, also known as “one-and-dones,” were selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft. Much of this is the result of the eligibility rules imposed by the NBA which state that an athlete must be at least 19 years of age during the draft and that any non-international athlete must be at least one year removed from graduating high school.
The recent reports of many college athletes receiving improper benefits surfaced. Most notable was Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton who was accused of receiving $100,000 to sign with the Wildcats.
With such overt hypocrisy in college basketball, the economics of the industry and nature of its current rules suggest that revising the one-and-done rule is necessary for the salvation of the sport.
The NCAA clearly states that it is a platform for amateurism which promotes the idea that its athletes are students first and athletes second. However, in an October 2017 article, sports economist Daniel Rascher estimates that the college sports industry generates $13 billion dollars a year.
With such high economic stakes, pressure mounts on coaches to win games. This is supported by the fact that of the 351 college basketball coaches 57 percent have been at their current school for fewer than five years. Naturally, the easiest way for basketball coaches to maintain their jobs is to win, which is also much simpler when you have the best players. The highly competitive market for athletic success has resulted in many coaches resorting to bribing top recruits to come to their school.
High School recruiting databases such as Rivals, 247 and Scout.com numerically rank prospects on their talent. Affirmation of their value creates an elastic market for players that eliminates the incentive to settle for the fixed rate salary which many believe to be an effective resolution to the issue.
Overall, it is no surprise that the juxtaposition between the NCAA generating 13 billion dollars of revenue while the agents (players) of their institution receive no compensation is capable of creating an extremely toxic environment.
How the rules under the current system endorse corruption
Under the current rules, no American player can go directly from high school to the NBA. Therefore, they have two options: play a year of college or play internationally and be legally compensated.
NBA rookie Terrance Ferguson, just one of three Americans who ever opted to forego college basketball and play internationally, articulated his rationale in a June 2017 interview with the Charlotte Observer saying, “Most one-and-done players only spend a few months in college. You have to do schoolwork and all this other stuff. At college, the only people making money off you are the coaches.”
Unfortunately, playing internationally robs athletes of the opportunity to compete against the highest level of competition that is not the NBA and can consequently harm an athlete’s draft stock. Of the four major American sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey), basketball is the only one that allows athletes to leave after just one year.
As a result, any wrongful compensation these athletes receive must be investigated and processed; only after this can athletes finally be punished. However, by the time sanctions are ready to be carried out, most players have already bolted for the NBA. Therefore, because there is very little chance that an athlete will miss any games or face legal consequences, they have little reason to decline money.
To synthesize, corruption is nearly impossible to erase from an institution that has such a wide disparity between what the athletes deserve versus what they receive. However, disallowing one-and-dones can reduce the corruption. If the NBA eliminates the minimum age, then the number of one-and-dones would diminish dramatically, as many more would opt to be paid immediately.
If the NBA stands pat, then the NCAA would be wise to follow College Football’s policy and force athletes to spend three years at their school before leaving for the pros. Such a rule would force athletes to decide whether they are interested in the NCAA’s message of being “student-athletes” with the risk of the NCAA investigating them for receiving wrongful benefits, or they could opt to play internationally until they meet the NBA’s age requirements.
Allowing the existing rules to remain would tell every fan and athlete that the NCAA cares more about the economic benefits of college basketball than the sanctity of the game and its institution.