Kentucky lost to Connecticut 60-54 in the NCAA championship game Monday night, saving the sport from yet another embarrassment of a drive-by champion. Kentucky won the 2012 NCAA title with a freshman-dominated roster and dang near did the same in 2014. UK started five freshmen, all of whom are sure to head for the NBA.
College basketball is afflicted with stars who just showed up and aren’t staying long. Even worse if your grand champion is full of such players. It makes a mockery of what collegiate athletics are supposed to be.
But it’s not likely to change soon. The best solution is to let prized high school graduates jump straight to the NBA, but the league and its players collectively bargained several years ago a rule that requires NBA players to be one year past their high school graduation. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said he would like to see the rule amended to two years; only players who are two years out of high school would eligible to play in the NBA.
Colleges would like that, I suppose, and the NBA would like it, I suppose, and players already in the NBA would like it, I suppose, since that would grant them all a one-year window in which special talent is not allowed to move in and take some precious jobs.
But Jon Hamm, our resident expert on the NBA collective bargaining agreement, says it’s not that easy. Jon wrote me, and I thought I would share his thoughts:
“My take on this: the players as a whole may very well want the age minimum raised. But because the NBA wants the age limit raised, that makes it an asset (in negotiations) for the players. Even if it makes a ton of sense to just change the rule, and even if the players would benefit from changing the rule, they aren’t going to just give that token away. Heck, there’s not even an executive director in place to give said token away. If there was, the players might be willing to up the age limit in exchange for something from the owners. And I have no idea what.
“The league and players can agree to alter the terms of the CBA after it has been implemented. For example, in 2003 the players agreed to change the first round playoff series from Best-of-5 to Best-of-7. In exchange, the players got a larger pool of playoff money to divide amongst the players.”
Great insight. Hamm’s exactly right. The NBA players union isn’t going to give away that asset.
Personally, I don’t think the NBA restriction would stand up in court. This is simple age discrimination, pure and simple, and you can discriminate in this country based on age, provided you prove a compelling public interest. Which no one could before a right-minded court.
My problem with the negotiated rule is that the people doing the negotiating are not affected. They’re already in the league. Some of them — people like Kevin Garnett and LeBron James and Kendrick Perkins — arrived in the league straight out of high school. So they are negotiating something that doesn’t affect them but affects others who have no voice.
That ain’t right.
But I digress. Hamm’s point is that if this rule is to change, the league will have to give up something. Concessions on money, discipline issues, drug testing, something. Who knows that? But it’s not a rule that will be easily changed.