Let them play in the NBA — college may be a waste of their talent, ability

I remember the good old days when I was a freshman. It was only half a year ago. I remember living in dingy Lanman-Wright Hall and wandering the campus for a half hour to find the “LC” building, only to find it was literally next door to my dorm. I couldn’t find my way to the basketball game, let alone think about playing at a competitive level.

Six young whippersnappers are showing why they are truly special individuals. Michael Beasley at Kansas State, Derrick Rose at Memphis, O.J. Mayo (word of experience: NEVER combine OJ and mayo in any other context, especially breakfast) at USC, Eric Gordon at Indiana, Kyle Singler at Duke and Kevin (McLovin!) Love at UCLA are, in the opinion of many sportswriters, the cream of this year’s college crop. And they’re all freshman barely used to living in a dorm.

What can we draw from the fact that the best six players (arguably) in the country are all freshmen? Maybe that they were ready to skip this level of play. Maybe this new rule forcing all players to play one year of college basketball before entering the NBA draft is misguided. Let’s look at who this rule helps and who it hurts.

This rule benefits fans of basketball at all levels and pro teams. Fans love watching superstars. Most professional basketball fans remember Carmelo Anthony’s amazing freshman year at Syracuse University almost as much as his time playing for the Denver Nuggets. The more talented players who filter through the college ranks and play on national television in the tournament, the more fans of basketball can see the future’s stars before they arrive.

Otherwise, some players fly under the radar. Even I, the kid who will watch the midnight Gonzaga vs. Loyola-Marymount game, end up seeing some professional players and wondering where they came from. Oh, some high school. Unless you’re Dwight Howard or Kobe Bryant, the country will not know you unless you either go to college or become an all star.

This rule helps teams because it works as a form of insurance. The Wizards might have known that Kwame Brown was not ready for the professional ranks had he been forced to play a year of college basketball against some of the nation’s top talent. Instead they used their pick on a player who can be called a bust. Washington was put on a state of alert somewhere between “code orange” and “code red.” I called it “code Brown.”

Ultimately, however, the policy hurts the players. If they are talented enough to jump to the NBA, they should not be held back one year and forced to attend college. Attending college is a privilege — anyone who does not wish to attend college should be allowed to forego the opportunity and give their spot at the university to another deserving student who plans to treat college like … college. Let’s be honest, if you were averaging a double-double at the highest level of college basketball and had millions of dollars waiting for you at the end of the year, would you really stress out about your tests? I wouldn’t. I’d major in XBOX.

I understand why the NFL forces its players to play college football for three years before allowing them to enter the league. But football is a game that demands a different level of physicality. The number of athletes truly ready for the professional game immediately after high school is the same as my percentage chance to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday — zero. Seventeen-year-olds just are not developed enough to take punishment from Ray Lewis.

I also understand that many college basketball fans envision this new rule as ushering in an era of college basketball like it was during Patrick Ewing’s time, when athletes went to school for four years and cared about their studies. But that age is gone and buried and will never return. Forcing kids to stay for their freshman year hardly helps build programs or rivalries between specific players on certain teams.

So let my people, er, my former people go. If Greg Oden looks 40, let him play against people who look his own age. Forcing O.J. Mayo to shoot 41 percent from three-point range in college because nobody can guard him is a waste of his life and an unfair imposition on the man’s ability to earn a living.

Yeah, the man’s ability. This is not a Patriots vs. Ravens game, and I am not a referee, so I can’t call him a boy. I can’t treat him the way I treat most freshmen. Because he’s not a freshman at USC — he’s a player in the one-year fast track to the NBA, which once upon a time represented colleges.

Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.


  • Anonymous

    I think you miss the point that recrited college athletes are generally exploited. They pay for tuition, room and board while bringing in millions of dollars to their colleges and universities.Perhaps colleges should do away with student-athle tes entirely and hire their own professional teams.

  • Anonymous

    to the above commenter: i think you're wrong. i seriously doubt that most major college athletes pay for anything, let alone tuition and/or living in a dorm.

    to the columnist:

    while your conclusion may be right, your arguments seem weak.

    first a minor point -- i think your NFL analogy is off. football is more physically demanding than basketball, but that doesn't mean that there are literally zero high school players who couldn't succeed immediately in the NFL. to give one example, amobi okoye was drafted out of Louisville last year at the age of 19. to give some perspective, oj mayo is going to turn 21 this year, and there are plenty of prep bballers who are 19 or older. the NFL has a college requirement (aka players must be 3 years out of high school) that can supplant any age restrictions on draftees (i think), and while most 19 year olds aren't ready for the NFL, a rare handful might be.

    second, i think you fail to point out the top arguments in favor of an NBA age restriction. you make a blanket statement that the age restriction hurts players because it (a) deprives them of an ability to make a living; and (b) disallows them from making a free choice about whether to attend college.

    to begin with, (a) is factually incorrect. oj mayo, for example, toyed with the idea of playing professionally overseas for the year in which he would have otherwise attended college. though he ultimately chose USC, he could have made a significant chunk of dough in europe. how is that deprivation of a living?

    beyond this fairly microscopic point, though, what you don't emphasize in your article are the causes of the problems the NBA had with prep-to-pros players before the age restriction. for every kobe bryant and kevin garnett, there were others who never made it in the NBA. i can assure you that raw talent was usually not the sole reason why these kids failed. high school players, especially those who grew up poor, when suddenly given millions and millions of dollars, for some reason have a tendency to not know how to live on their own. whether it's being taken advantage of by agents and friends, or whether it's simply that they don't think they have to work hard b/c they now have money, or whether it's depression over sitting at the end of an NBA bench as a rookie, prep-to-pros had a history of struggling with the stark jump to the NBA. even tracy mcgrady almost didn't make it.

    even a single year of college can be immensely beneficial for these athletes, not only as basketball players (do you really think carmelo would have been as good coming out of high school than he was coming out of syracuse?), but also as people who need to learn how to live on their own. college coaches teach discipline, as cheesy as it sounds, which is immensely important, especially for players who come from bad neighborhoods and/or had behavior problems in high school (michael beasley, for example).

    i agree that the NBA age restriction is paternalistic. but what's wrong with paternalism, especially when it has the potential to have such great benefit, with very little risk involved? sometimes an argument is made such as the following: if player X got injured in his freshman year of college, he might be entirely deprived of his chance to play in the NBA. while facially persuasive, i can't think of one person to whom this has happened. the closest thing i can think of is greg oden, and it didn't seem to hurt him. i really don't think there's much cost, if any, to attending college for a year, especially because in the vast majority of cases, playing a year of college ball prepares players to have longer and more successful NBA career than they'd have without college.

    and while attending college is indeed a privilege, how can you fault the nba for forcing kids who don't know any better to get an education? when i say education, i don't only mean academics, but also education on how to live as an independent individual.

    that was some serious rambling, but my ultimate point is this: the NBA age restriction is paternalistic and seems unfair on the surface, but at core, there is really nothing harmful about forcing kids to go to college.