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Thursday, June 04, 2009
Congressman Steve Cohen Takes Aim at NBA Age Limit

U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) has written to NBA commissioner David Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter asking them to eliminate the NBA's age limit, which requires that a player be 19 years old plus one year removed from high school in order to be eligible for the NBA Draft (the rule was negotiated in 2005; previously, players could join the NBA right after finishing high school). The NBA and NBPA will be negotiating a new CBA in the near future and the age limit will likely be a source of tension between the two bargaining units. There are several stories on Congressman Cohen's request. Gary Parrish of CBS Sportsline has one of them and it's excerpted below.

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U.S. Rep Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) wrote a letter Wednesday to NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter that asks them to eliminate the league’s 19-year-old age minimum for U.S. players to enter the draft. obtained a copy of the letter from Cohen's office.

"I am writing to express my deep concern over the policy of the National Basketball Association (NBA) to bar athletes from playing in the league on the basis of their age," Cohen's letter to Stern begins. "The '19 plus 1' policy, which requires American players to be at least 19 years of age and one year removed from their high school graduating class, is unfair restriction on the rights of these young men to pursue their intended career. I also believe that it has played an important role in several recent scandals involving college students who were prevented from entering the NBA upon high school graduation. I ask that this policy be repealed when the NBA completes its new collective bargaining agreement with the NBA Player's Association."

Cohen expanded on his thoughts in an afternoon interview with He said that though he represents a district that includes Memphis, the timing of his letter is unrelated to recent news that the University of Memphis men's basketball program has been charged with major violations by the NCAA. Rather, the timing is connected to Thursday's start of the NBA Finals, and Cohen said he has long planned to send his letter this week because he expected two stars who never attended college to be participating on the sports' biggest stage.

"We've been looking at the issue since April, to be honest," Cohen said by phone. "We were expecting a Kobe-LeBron Finals, but we got a Kobe-Dwight Finals, which is just as fine because we've got two players who went straight from high school to the NBA (in the Finals), and it didn't seem to hurt them at all in their development as players."

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For the rest, click here. For empirical research on high school players and the NBA Draft, see my law review article Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft and my study NBA Players That Get in Trouble with the Law: Do Age and Education Level Matter? and my research on points/boards/assists as featured in ESPN The Magazine. Also be sure to see Alan Milstein's comments from a New York Law School sports law symposium two months ago about a legal challenge to the NBA's age limit, and posts on Sonny Vaccaro's remarks about the topic.


I think what the Congressman is doing has merits, except he is using the classic argument by using superstars to prove his point, when he should be using second and third tier players and see how they are doing.
Mike, I was thinking about this, and I am sure it has come up before, but why cant the compromise to the system be that if you dont get drafted, you are allowed to go back to school, even if you sign with an agent. You have to obviously distance yourself from the gifts and agent, but this will allow players to come back to college, and this way if the NBA wants to be stupid and draft players who arent ready they can. But if they come to their senses, the player can go back to school, but maybe with some suspension for a few games. That seems a bit fair maybe.

Thoughts, anyone?


Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/04/2009 10:45 AM  

ideal, but not realistic - would require the NBA to revise the CBA and the NCAA to require the UAAA. Involvement of agents in the proposed scenario would be impossible to regulate...I think.

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