I hate to be the one to break this, but the recent questions surrounding Derrick Rose and the Memphis basketball program, as well as O.J. Mayo and the USC program, are not an NBA problem. They are an NCAA problem.
Corruption in signing top college basketball prospects was around long before David Stern implemented an age minimum for the NBA, and if the Association were to reverse this rule, rest assured, corruption in college basketball would not come to an end.
So it's important we come from a realistic place when engaging in the debate over the so-called "One and Done" rule.
I have a theory on how to retool the NBA age regulation, put into place before the 2006 Draft. But first, I want to address how we got here in the first place. Here we go, the top four reasons why the NBA does not want players jumping straight into the draft from high school:
1. It Hurts the Product on the Floor
For a two-year period after Michael Jordan officially retired in 2003, David Stern watched the NBA product get uglier. A contributing factor to this ugliness was a surplus of inexperienced, unpolished players, who lacked seasoning under the tutelage of the premier college coaches in America. Prospects skipping college and going to the pros were stocking the league with raw talent, with an emphasis on on the raw.
Stern and other league officials saw the quality of basketball suffering under this system, and they sought to curb it as much as possible.
2. It Handcuffs NBA General Managers
It is extremely difficult for NBA scouts to determine the All-Star potential of a top high school prospect, based on what he does against other high school players or in a draft workout. NBA-game speed is a whole different animal from prep school.
At the same time, the sports-hype machine is always churning. As a result, the top prospects are plastered all over the media, and even our beloved Bleacher Report. The fans are clamoring for their savior draft pick, and no GM wants to be tagged as "the guy who passed on the next Kobe Bryant."
So the high school kid is taken, and he may spend a couple years on the bench getting ready for prime time, all the while eating up cap space that could be used for key acquisitions (see Kwame Brown).
3. Kobe and LeBron Are the Exceptions, Not the Rule
For every one Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, there are four Sebastian Telfairs or Eddy Currys or Leon Smiths. Before the minimum was established, too many high schoolers were jumping into the pro ranks because they could, not because they should.
4. Maturity Level
Commisioner Stern and the rest of the NBA wanted to slow an influx of immaturity into their league. We have entered an era in sports where a premium is placed on good public relations; maturity in players is valued almost as much as talent. With the age minimum rule, the NBA took a stance that makes sense in the age of the Internet and 24-hour news cycle.
If you're a great high school player and you have the grades to go to college, good, then go. Who knows? You might learn something, and you might even enjoy it.
On the other hand, if you're 18 and you can't get it together enough to make it to fourth-period Spanish, then, I'm sorry my friend, you're not ready to handle a $20 million contract, and the expectations of a franchise.
These four reasons convinced the NBA to implement the current system, and the League has no plans to reverse it. In fact, Stern wants the age raised to 20, instead of 19, during the next collective bargaining negotiation.
Meanwhile, college basketball purists claim the "One and Done" rule is killing the spirit of scholastic athletics. I contend that the spirit died long ago, and that it is not the NBA's responsibility to revive it; that challenge rests squarely on the shoulders of the NCAA.
While I don't believe the rule will be reversed, I do believe it can be adjusted, and adjusted in a way that may lead to the satisfaction of college basketball purists and the NBA alike. And my proposition is this:
Academic standards for the NBA.
Wait, hear me out on this one.
First off, we hang on to the 19-year-old rule, but with an "escape clause" built in based on academic achievement in high school.
We hold the same academic standards for early admittance to the NBA as we would for any major university. If you have the grades, then you have earned yourself a choice: Enter the NBA draft, or hone your game at a top college program that would love to have you.
This would have a multi-prong effect of satisfying the academic purists, motivating the top prospects to get the job done in high school, and instilling the discipline and maturity that the NBA is attempting to achieve.
If you can't meet the standards with your high school grades, that's OK. You can still make it to the show. But you are going to have to ride it out in Europe, junior college, or the D-League until you turn 19.
Think about it. This can work.
We all use our academic accomplishments in resumes or interviews in our attempts to land a job. The NFL uses the Wonderlic Test to evaluate potential draft picks. The same standards can work for the NBA, and it is an option that should be considered.