Would College Basketball Suffer Without the NBA's Age Limit?

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Would College Basketball Suffer Without the NBA's Age Limit?
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
The NBA age limit, which has been in effect since 2006, essentially forces players like Andrew Wiggins (in red) and Jabari Parker (in gray) to go to college for at least one season.

There wasn't an Andrew Wiggins in the Final Four in 2013. No Kevin Durant. No Anthony Davis. No Julius Randle. 

It was, in some ways, an NCAA tournament without the most genetically blessed players who have become available to college basketball because of the NBA age limit. 

If the NCAA had its way, this is what the future could look like. We would be a month away from a college basketball season where the most talented college-aged freshmen were already professionals.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
NCAA President Mark Emmert has not been the most popular man with the media in the last year.

NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke Monday at Marquette, and, among other things (mostly there's no chance the NCAA is giving in to pay-for-play), he provided his views on the NBA age limit. He doesn't believe it should exist. And, of course, someone took exception to Emmert's comments. 

Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated wrote a column that made a really good argument for why getting rid of the NBA age limit would be bad for business for the NCAA.

If you take away the best talent, Glockner argued, the product suffers.

Forgive me because Glockner's column made sense and brought up some good points (which I'll get to later), but I side with Emmert here. And I realize agreeing with Emmert these days is like supporting communism. 

But forget who is saying this for a minute, and think about a point Emmert makes. It is a principle that, in any other circumstance, we would be fully behind: freedom of choice.

Emmert said: 

It's a dynamic tension that we really need to work on because it's at heart of part of what talking about here. Why would we want to force someone to go to school when they really don't want to be there? But if you're going to come to us, you're going to be a student.

The emphasis is on that final part of the quote—you're going to be a student—and that's a battle that, in some cases, the NCAA is never going to win. 

Just like you have athletes who are going to try to cut corners and do enough to get by, you're going to have "regular" students do the same. 

Valuing your education is a choice, just like whether or not to go to school in the first place. 

So maybe how Emmert has arrived at his stance is a bit idealistic, but the right to choose could be beneficial for all parties involved.

The best part of Glockner's takedown of Emmert's stance is the fact that basketball players already have other choices—they can go to Europe for a year or play in the D-League—and Glockner hits on a point that is largely ignored:

A lot of people bring up Brandon Jennings, the former Arizona recruit who ended up playing his pre-NBA season in Italy before being picked 10th overall by Milwaukee, as an example of alternate options for high schoolers. What they choose not to mention is that Jennings spent his season at Virtus Roma coming off the bench and getting limited minutes behind former Penn point guard Ibby Jaaber. Yes, the future No. 10 pick in the NBA draft was iced behind a former Ivy League player. Current European basketball culture (as well as the development programs that help feed youth talent to the parent clubs) leaves almost zero chance for a U.S. high school player to be a desirable commodity for a one-year layover. Currently, going to the D-League isn’t much better.

This is why the NCAA is a desirable place for the best high school players. They get to play. They get noticed. And then they get paid.

In the process, the NCAA makes gobs of money. 

Painting the NCAA as an innocent victim is not going to make sense to anyone because the NCAA does make a lot of money off its athletes. Poor bastards.

But the NCAA cannot force the NBA to change its rule. It's an NBA rule. The NCAA could, however, push back.

Push back hard enough, and the NBA might just do something about it, Glockner argued: 

If the NBA, over time, views the NCAA pipeline as less and less beneficial to its own needs, there will be more motivation for the league to explore other legitimate options to the NCAA, whether it's really blowing out the D-League, starting club structures similar to Europe, somehow utilizing Europe's club structures as an approved farm system, etc. 

This is where I'm with Emmert, and it might seem crazy for someone who loves college basketball to say, but would it be the worst thing for the NBA to create a more viable minor league system? 

The reason the NBA hasn't put more into creating such a league is that minor leagues are not marketable—when is the last time you watched a minor league baseball game on TV?—but baseball has found a way to create a system that isn't sucking the league's funds dry.

And if you have a system that works, then the best players have a choice. They can develop as a true minor leaguer, or they can develop in college. If you choose college, the MLB's rule is you have to stay there for three years. 

Those who feel as Glockner feels would probably argue that such a system would ruin the popularity of college basketball, but not everyone wants to skip school entirely. 

And I'll go back to the 2013 Final Four as an example of why getting rid of the rule would not ruin the college game. 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Former Michigan point guard Trey Burke, who was not highly rated coming out of high school, became a star in college.

At the 2013 Final Four, the national semifinals had a considerable rise in ratings from 2012, and the championship game had its best ratings in 19 years

This was a Final Four that included only two lottery picks: Michigan's Trey Burke and Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams. Burke was a fringe-100 recruit coming out of high school, and Carter-Williams barely played his freshman year at Syracuse. In other words, the Final Four did not have any players who could have gone pro right out of high school.

Yet, somehow, the 2013 Final Four managed to create more excitement than the 2012 Final Four, which featured the first two picks of the draft, both one-and-done players who were talented enough to skip school altogether if allowed. 

College basketball is always going to be relevant because the demand is for the teams, not the players. 

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Fans identify with the teams either because they went there, are from that area or know someone who went there.

Even if you took away the top 10-20 freshmen each year, there are still going to be great talents and great personalities in college basketball. The coaches are not going anywhere. And the best teams—Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, etc.—are still going to get the best talent available. 

Yes, KU fans might be more excited this year because Wiggins will be a Jayhawk. And UK fans are pumped to have arguably the best freshman class ever. But John Calipari is always going to find a way to get the best players available. And the fanbases take pride in the fact that their teams will be at the top of the rankings. 

Would it be disappointing for Wiggins or Randle or Jabari Parker never to play a minute of college ball? Yes. I don't want to see that. It's fun to have a future NBA superstar to root for, but it's not necessary. 

At least those players could come to college or not on their terms. In the end, the product on the floor is still going to entertain us. 

Just think back to early April at the Final Four. Were you not entertained? 

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