What's the Point of College Basketball?
Brandon Jennings asked himself that question two years ago, and it appears that his answer was the right one. College Basketball has become a five minute break on the path to NBA stardom for many of the best college players.
Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, and others have used college as a brief proving ground to ensure that their elevated draft stock doesn't drop following high school.
Some have said that this is an improvement on a situation that was afflicting both the NBA and college game.
At the beginning of the decade, the NBA seemed to be dragging under the weight of disappointing high school draft picks that were not ready for the NBA game or the rise in skill level. The college game was faced with a talent drain as the biggest names in the high school game were jumping straight to the pros in great numbers.
The decision by the NBA to bar players from entering the league until they are one year removed from their high school graduation year (applied in this way for those that do not manage to graduate) was a tonic to both basketball organizations.
The NCAA could realize their desire to be the only option for American basketball talent 19 and under, while the NBA reinforced a feeder system that improved the quality of their league at no cost to them.
This system was perfect for both the NBA and NCAA until Brandon Jennings found the glaring loophole in the plan. Why go to college when you could make money right out of high school in Europe? This is not the groundbreaking idea that it seems to be, yet it is a course that has not been followed with regularity or success by previous American teenagers.
The European option will not be a path taken for many, but it is available to those players that are willing to take the chance. The number of players moving abroad is likely to increase thanks to the success of Jennings.
The success, although minimal, of the European option is an indictment of the decision-making of the NBA and the business model of NCAA basketball.
The NBA would be more successful, as well as more faithful to its principles, if they were to provide an option to graduating high school players. The current situation does nothing but exploit talented players for a year in order to make money for the NCAA while refining that talent for the rigors of an NBA season.
The NCAA is culpable in the situation as well. The principles of scholarship and fair play can seem far removed from the realities of big time college athletics. If these principles were truly the cornerstones of the NCAA, then more should be done by the organization.
Only a court decision on the topic of age limits for the NBA or pay for college players seems to be the spur that would move both organizations to action.
Perhaps there is no easy solution to this problem because the powers involved do not have a problem with the status quo. It is unlikely that anything will change unless the European option truly becomes a viable one for young players and veterans alike, or the courts rule in favor of the young athletes.
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