On Second Thought: the One-and-Done Rule

Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz left college following their freshman seasons to likely become the top 2 picks in this year's NBA Draft.

Welcome to “On Second Thought”, a new series where I review some of my old articles, critiquing my arguments and explaining how my views have changed over time.  For this first edition, I’ll be taking a look back at my piece on the One-and-Done rule.

Original Article: Why the “One and Done” Rule Needs to Go Publish Date: 8/13/14

First thought: wow, this was a long time ago.  Seriously.  Back when Top Level Sports was just beginning, I remember scribbling down a list of ideas for potential articles while on lunch break at my summer internship.  The One-and-Done rule was on that list, and sure enough, I posted on the subject later that summer.  That was almost three years ago now, and while the rule hasn’t changed during that time, my opinion definitely has.

Let’s take a step back.  I’m still not a fan of the rule, which was adopted as “Article X” of the NBA’s 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement.  It’s turned schools like Kentucky and Duke essentially into NBA academies that continually dominate recruiting classes, serving as stepping stones between five-star recruits and the NBA.  However, while I had originally agreed with NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s belief that the NBA’s age limit should be upped from 19 t0 20, requiring players to be two years removed from high school to enter the draft, it seems increasingly clear that is not the solution.  Instead, the rule should be abolished, once again allowing prospects to enter the draft directly out of high school.

Back in the original article, I argued the One-and-Done rule harmed college basketball by creating super teams every year.  While the notion that a small group of schools consistently sign top recruits is, for the most part, true, by no means has it ruined the competitiveness of the game.  In recent years, we’ve seen just as many, if not more, upsets during March Madness, and it can be argued that the presence of these “stacked” teams has helped grow the sport in popularity.  Additionally, even if there were no One-and-Done rule, the same schools would likely still grab most of the best players because of the history of their programs.

I also stated that the overall quality of play in college basketball would be lessened by having the top freshman leave every year.  In reality, the number of players that actually declare for the NBA draft after their first college season isn’t near large enough to noticeably affect the sport, and it’s nothing compared to the amount of seniors that simply graduate every year.  Sure, it would be nice to see the top freshman stay and face the next year’s diaper dandies, but surely we’d rather see them facing each other in the actual NBA?

Evaluating the rule’s impact on the college game isn’t the right way to view the problem, anyways.  Let’s look at why the rule was implemented in the first place.  There are two main reasons: to allow players to mature and receive an education and to reduce the risk of drafting young players whose talents might not transfer into the league.

The education argument immediately seems silly.  You’re not getting a degree or even taking many major-specific classes as a freshman, so the idea that attending college for a year will provide NBA hopefuls with a backup plan should things not go as planned doesn’t hold up.  On top of that, if you’re a player who knows they’re leaving after one year, how incentivized are you really to take school seriously?  When Ben Simmons attended LSU during the 2015-16 season, he knew he would likely be the NBA’s #1 pick in the following draft.  School wasn’t a top priority, so during the fall semester, he aimed for the 1.8 GPA he needed to be eligible to play basketball in the spring.  Once the second semester began, he stopped attending class.  Who can blame him?

On the surface, the idea of giving players another year to develop their games and be evaluated by scouts doesn’t seem like a bad one.  However, try comparing last year’s college recruiting rankings to this year’s NBA mock drafts.  Players have shifted a few spots here and there, and Harry Giles’ stock notably fell, but the top 10 is mostly the same.  Sure, having more information is better, but by the time they reach college, these guys have already been scouted for years.  And even with the extra year in college, there are still busts every year.

While these players attend a relatively useless year of college, their careers are severely hurt from a financial perspective.  As a general rule, the earlier you enter the league, the longer you can play, and the more money you can make.  Especially for players coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and bad neighborhoods, entering the league as soon as possible is crucial.  Going to the NBA from high school also means foregoing the risk of injuries while playing college ball which could harm career prospects.

The best high school basketball prospects are unlike their football and baseball counterparts in that they are much more capable of making the transition to the pros and playing at a high level at a young age.  Ultimately, if a player thinks he’s ready to make the jump from high school to the NBA, and a team agrees, it should be allowed.  If a high schooler is drafted and needs a bit more development, spending some time in the D-League is always an option.

A large majority of players will still attend college, but there will be cases where the NBA makes the most sense.  What doesn’t make sense is preventing players from taking the chance.  Let’s end the One-and-Done rule, once and for all.



Readers Comments (1)

  1. You may be convincing me … the maturity issue was always my concern. Can you at 18 or 19 navigate all that comes with becoming an NBA star without developing some off the court bad habits.


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