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Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Buzz Bissinger Op-Ed in today's New York Times on NBA's Eligiblity Restriction: From Supporter to Opponent

Pulitzer prize winner H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger (author of the famed Friday Night Lights and LeBron James' co-author of Shooting Stars) pens an outstanding op-ed in today's New York Times on the NBA's eligibility rule, which Bissinger admits he thought was a good idea back in 2005 but now believes was a terrible idea. I'm honored that Bissinger would cite a couple of my studies in his piece (which is on page A25 of today's paper). Here are a couple of excerpts:

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So I was pleased that, as part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, rules were established requiring American players to be at least a year removed from high school and a minimum of 19 to be eligible for the N.B.A. draft. This meant that young superstars would generally go to college, at least for one year. Beyond simply advancing their skills, I thought, it might turn them on to the value of an education, maybe enough to stay in school longer.

Now, with another N.B.A. regular season beginning today, the issue still rages, with ramifications that go directly to the heart of whether any professional sports league has actual concern for its athletes beyond a smokescreen of clever spin. And in looking back at Stern’s decision, I am now convinced that we got punked.

. . .

Stern raised the age in large part because N.B.A. owners and general managers resented the amount of time it took to train players straight out of high school. He did it because owners did not like the possibility of players becoming free agents, able to join any other team in the league, in their early 20s. My guess is that he also did it to appease the National Collegiate Athletic Association; you could hear the whining that the N.B.A.’s version of cradle-robbing was denying the college game great players who could sell out arenas.

There are disaster stories of players entering the draft from high school and failing spectacularly. But as tragic as the stories are, they are an exception. A study by Michael McCann, a professor at Vermont Law School who is an expert on sports and legal issues, pointed out that of the 21 high school players who declared for the draft from 1975 to 2001, four became superstars — Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady — and only four never made it to the N.B.A. This trend held with the high school draft classes of 2002 through 2005, the year the ban was put in place: of the 26 players drafted, 20 were still playing through last season and three have become superstars: Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and James.

The frequent argument that players drafted straight from high school are more prone to quickly get into trouble because of their age has also proved wrong. According to a study by McCann in 2005 of the most recent 84 arrests of pro players, more than half the arrestees had spent four years on a university campus but only 4.8 percent never went to college (even though players without any college experience made up 8.3 percent of the league population).

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There's much more in the op-ed, a definite read if you're interested in eligibility rules for professional sports, particularly the NBA. And like many of you, I'm psyched about the NBA season starting tonight!

Update: ESPN's Henry Abbott reacts to Bissinger's story and also refers to some good ideas offered by Dean Smith. Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis also has a great piece reacting to Bissinger, and the same is true of Eamonn Brennan of Yahoo! Sports.


I think a lot can also be said about how this rule is hurting NCAA basketball. At first glance, many expected the rule to help the NCAA game by increasing the talent level. While it has increased the talent level to a degree, it has also left larger Division 1 programs with some major problems. Coaches are now forced to decide whether to recruit a player, knowing he may only be on campus until April, thus ruining any chance of continuity within their program. Coaches also have to decide if taking the hit to their graduation rates and risking losing future scholarships is worth the risk.

Outside those issues, you’re also seeing more recruiting violations relating to these "one-and-done's" Memphis and USC have both been left to clean up the mess after their programs violated bylaws, only to see the coaches and players responsible move on scot-free.

I am of the opinion the NBA should go to a system like MLB. A player has their option out of HS, but once they enter NCAA they are there for three years or until they turn 21. I’ve heard this will never fly for money reasons, and I think its a shame. This type of rule gives the player the initial choice, while at the same time allowing the NCAA school some security. The current system has turned the NCAA into nothing more than a jumping off point for these kids who have no interest whatsoever in even being there. Keeping this system in place is only going to increase these types of problems.

Anonymous MBoyer3 -- 10/28/2009 12:57 PM  

Being a massive soccer fan, I just find this rule interesting.

In foreign soccer leagues in particular, specifically Europe, the age restriction would never be allowed to pass since it is a restriction on trade. But with American sports leagues, particularly the big three, Major League Baseball, NBA and NFL, the anti-trust exemption allows this rule to exist where it would never exist elsewhere.

The argument that the NBA and the NCAA made is that most athletes can't make the jump from high school to the pro leagues. But that claim is belied by the high number of young soccer players all over the world who make the jump, including American players: Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, Eddie Gaven, Robbie Rogers, Landon Donovan, Danny Szetela, Bobby Convey, Santino Quaranta, just to name a few.

Sure these players have had individual ups and downs, but that doesn't make it wrong that they made the move.

What I find interesting is the number of high school basketball players who are signing professional contracts in Europe for a year or two before trying to get drafted into the NBA. As those leagues don't have the rule regarding year out of high school, you will probably see more and more players taking some time to experience european basketball.

Blogger Matt Johnston -- 10/31/2009 12:19 AM  

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