I knew a guy in high school, good guy, good friend. Not the brightest bulb in the box. But he was steadfast, and knew what he was good at. He excelled at shop class, and sports. He knew he wasn't good enough to be pro athlete, and he knew what he liked to do. He's a mechanic now, he had to scratch and claw his way to get his high school diploma, but he got it.
You may ask what this has got to do with OJ Mayo, or college athletics in general. Here it is: both my friend, and OJ Mayo, were never cut out for college life. My friend left high school and immediately got a job as an apprentice at a local mechanic's shop.
OJ Mayo should have had the same opportunity, he should have been allowed to join the NBA right out of high school. He has the skills, every scout and talent evaluator says the same, there is no dissension on this point. He is a pro basketball player, and has been for the last year. By forcing him, and so many other players, to join a college team for one season (and soon to be two if David Stern has his way), the NBA is essentially saying that they do not believe that their owners and GM's have the wherewithal to judge young talent on their merits without seeing them in heavier competition.
Stern has a point, let us examine the numbers.
There are thousands of high schools in the USA, and of the players on those thousands of teams, only the top one or two players, the All-State players, will get full-ride scholarships to a Division I or II college. That leaves thousands of would-be pro players out in the cold, relegated to lower D-II or III schools or giving up the ghost altogether and just moving on.
Now, think about how many real good D-I colleges there are, just under a hundred. All the players on those teams were All-State in their respective high schools.
The NBA has about 30 teams, each with about 15 players on them. That's 450 jobs every year. The Draft allows each team to choose 2 players if they don't trade for more picks or less. That's 60 new players in the NBA every year! 60 out of thousands.
That's not even counting the players from other countries that come to the US without needing to attend college! It comes down to about 1% of all basketball players in the US who can go pro. The rest flame out quick or never make it past the NBDL.
Stern can use the argument that he is protecting both these kids and the teams that may draft them.
Sure, there are success stories like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. There are also spectacular failures like James Cook, or Kwame Brown. But David Stern is not a professional philanthropist. He is in fact the man who has overseen the meteoric rise of the NBA from also-ran league into a mega-million industry, with more young urban fans every year than any sport save football. He is not a giver, he is a businessman. This forcing of high school grads to attend college is not for their benefit, it is for the benefit of his sport.
The NCAA tournament directly affects the NBA. What better stage exists to showcase talent that will soon be in the NBA than the media frenzy that follows the annual March tournament?
David Stern gets ready-made superstars for his league without having to worry about the risk of a GM or Owner taking a flier on some kid who may or may not end up burning out fast. The NCAA gets NBA talent to stay in their sport for at least a year, boosting their ratings even further and generating money for their universities. It's a love-love relationship.
So why shouldn't OJ Mayo take some cabbage to play at USC?
He knows he isn't graduating, doesn't care about the university after he leaves, and has no form of income. Who wouldn't take the extra cash? The average college kid has to go to class full time, study, and then work a job just to get his or her rent paid, and maybe then they'd have some cash to take a friend out or go on a date.
With the millions of dollars being dangled in front of these players, it's not a surprise that agents are giving them "gifts" in exchange for future representation.
How do we fix this problem? Is it a problem at all? I think it is, and here's a few suggestions to help it:
1. First off, lose the idea of paying college athletes. They get paid. That's what not having to pay the exhorbitant amount of money to get a higher education is for.
I know, I'm in debt up to my eyeballs for a bachelor's degree in accounting, and if I'd have known I could have avoided it by working on my jump shot, I would have. Paying college athletes would open the door for still more corruption. Throwing money at a money-based problem is like throwing a lighter into a forest fire. It doesn't help.
2. Get rid of the one year mandatory college attendance rule, it's outdated and completely unnecessary. It's America, let the kid go pro if he's 18. If he flames out, it's his fault.
You can help keep the likelihood of bad drafting down if you send out counselors to high schools across the country, lecturing on the dangers of listening to your parents, talent scouts and agents instead of NBA scouts.
Go look up that Cook kid and give him a job telling people exactly how hard it is to make an NBA squad.
Also, develop the NBDL more, make it more like the MLB minor league teams. It will allow players to test their skills on more talented competition without forcing them into school.
In addition, you could allow roster expansion towards the end of the year, allowing teams to test these youngsters out on real competition in preparation for the next year, or as fresh legs for the playoffs. It works for baseball.
3. Let's everyone: the fans, media, parents, agents, scouts, and teams, dial back on the hype.
I don't want to read in Sports Illustrated about the latest 13 year old to sign a letter of intent to USC. That's sick!
I was still playing Super Mario Bros. when I was 13. I didn't care to think about what I was going to do with my life professionally.
It is extremely unhealthy to continue to tell kids who don't know the difference between genuine skill and hype that they have what it takes to make it in the pros without also telling them that less than 1% of all basketball players turn pro.
I remember watching LeBron James play in a high school basketball game when he was 17, and thinking it was the most asinine thing ever. If James had gone supernova in one year, we'd all be laughing at ESPN and everyone else for hyping him so much. Lucky us that he didn't.
The machine is not broken, but it is a little rundown. Stern is obviously a very smart man, but he is also a bit of a sneak, and a user. He used Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to build his league. He used Michael Jordan to extend it into the mainstream And he's using high school kids and the NCAA tournament to keep it there.
He's using the failures of some owners to evaluate talent to bludgeon the rest of them into forcing these kids to go to college. And that is just plain communism. And we all know communism doesn't work.