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Friday, April 28, 2017

College Basketball’s “One and Done” Should Be “None and Done”

Perhaps if the NBA and NCAA realized times have changed, they'd allow players to either enter the draft once they've turned 18 or be compensated while still in school.

The latest installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, “One and Not Done,” examines the career of current Kentucky Wildcats head basketball coach John Calipari. The title is derived from a certain type of player in college basketball who only plays one year at a school, then goes into the NBA draft. This phenomenon has occurred primarily since the NBA passed a rule in 2005 that required drafted players to be at least one year out of high school. Calipari is largely credited with leading the way to make elite players only wish to play one year of college basketball before jumping to the professional level. This has made him a controversial figure in the college basketball world.

Most of the documentary reviews Calipari’s beginnings as a head coach and his rise through the ranks of basketball. The “one and done” phenomenon is only introduced and discussed in the last half hour of the two-hour film. But in the midst of all the discussions and opinions about the system Calipari has pioneered, one quote stood out as the truest and most insightful. That quote was from former Georgetown University head coach John Thompson when he discussing the departure of many of these players from the ranks of college basketball. After admitting that he wouldn’t like Calipari if he were trying to coach against him, Thompson said,

this whole religious experience that we have about people leaving school. How many people have you heard of, millionaires and billionaires, that dropped out of school and still were successful in life?

First of all, Thompson’s equating college with religion is strikingly accurate. In both the American political and social circle, college is exalted to a near-religious status: more money for college (provided by government, of course) is always good. More kids going to college is always a sign of societal improvement. More college graduates are nothing but a positive for social advancement. Few American institutions are more sacrosanct than that of higher education.

The second part of his quote displays an overwhelming truth as well: the fact is that many people aside from college basketball players do not need college to become successful. Remarkably wealthy entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Ralph Lauren, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college before receiving a degree. But of course, there isn’t the lamenting over abrupt departure from college when it comes to these individuals. This is because performing the job that gets them this wealth is not a spectator sport at the amateur level like basketball is. No one was gathering around a television to watch Zuckerberg write algorithms in college (or out of college for that matter). But since college basketball is a wildly popular televised event, many people can’t seem to cease all the complaining about why elite basketball players choose to leave school for a big paycheck rather than stay at a level that doesn’t pay them at all.

Because college basketball is a wildly popular televised event, people don’t like it when college players leave school for a paycheck rather than staying to entertain them unpaid.Not only is Thompson’s quote accurate, but it’s refreshing to hear someone from his generation embrace the market-driven aspect of these players’ decisions. Thompson is 75 years old and had his heyday as Georgetown’s head coach in the 1980s. Back then, players were much more likely to stay in college longer than they are today. Patrick Ewing, the best player Thompson ever coached, stayed all four years at Georgetown. It would be unthinkable for a player of his talent to stay at a school that long today. Other coaches from Thompson’s era, like Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight, have been quite critical of “one and done” players. It seems these coaches aren’t content with preventing players from getting paid for their skills for just one year.

Of course, for those of us who believe in the freedom of contract and self-ownership, the problem with the “one and done” rule is that it requires those who have reached adulthood to spend at least a year unable to profit from the talents they have. There should be no age requirement for a player who has graduated from high school with the talent to play a professional sport. All college athletes are barred from receiving any outside financial compensation for the duration of their college careers. By preventing athletes from entering the draft for any period of time, the freedom of contract is violated.

Thompson certainly deserves credit for recognizing that times have changed and those elite basketball players who do leave school early are just responding to the economic incentives that can lure people out of college to pursue any other career. Perhaps if the NCAA and NBA came to accept this fact, athletes considered to be adults by law could be allowed to enter the draft and be compensated for their talents. Either that or allow college athletes to be paid while still competing at the school. But the prevention of these things will only cause athletes to see greener pastures at the professional level and make the decision to be paid what they are worth.

Republished from Libertarian Sports Fan.