USC Basketball Is Dead, but NBA Rules Share the Blame

Michael Del MuroCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 12:  O.J. Mayo #32 of the Memphis Grizzlies sets on the court aganst the Los Angeles Lakers on April 12, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The final nail in USC Basketball's coffin was hammered in on Tuesday with the not-so-surprising resignation of Head Coach Tim Floyd.

His resignation came weeks after allegations of improperly paying Memphis Grizzlies star O.J. Mayo before he attended USC two seasons ago.

It also came after four—yes, four—Trojans made themselves eligible for the NBA. Included in this group was fifth-year senior Marcus Johnson, who averaged all of 3.1 points per game during his last injury-plagued season, and would-be senior Daniel Hackett, both of whom will probably not be picked in the NBA Draft.

The Trojans also released two players from their previous commitments to the program, including top recruits Noel Johnson and Renardo Sidney.

If all that didn't spell a looming death sentence for the program, I don't know what could.

The sad thing about this whole affair is that Floyd, Mayo, and last year's freshman star DeMar DeRozan (who is expected to be a lottery pick later this month), had put Trojan basketball on the map. The brand new Galen Center was a recruiter's dream. USC seemed poised to challenge UCLA for Los Angeles college basketball prominence.

Then reality set in.

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USC must be held accountable for its basketball team's off-court infractions. The school should probably lose some scholarships, and perhaps suffer postseason probation. But the NCAA has rarely doled out the latter punishment to basketball programs, not that it will matter to a Trojan program that would be lucky to win a handful of Pac-10 games the next few seasons.

This scandal comes just days after two Memphis Tiger players, including Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, were accused of not taking their own SATs in high school.

The NCAA is set to rule on penalties for Memphis, which could include forfeiture of up to 38 games in which Rose played in.

Of course lost in all this is that the universities might not have actually committed the alleged violations.

Still, next year, similar stories will come out about other one-and-done players.

And we'll have the same thing occur the year after.

Of course, universities are to blame for losing control of their programs. But so is the NBA.

The NBA Draft eligibility rule that prohibits players jumping to the league straight out of high school has created a system that has tainted college basketball and the professional game's future stars—it's impossible to look at Mayo and Rose without thinking of the scandals they helped cause at their universities.

When the league instituted this rule in 2006, I thought it was a good move.

It was an idealistic thought.

It was a belief that the pro game would benefit from more mature players, and the NCAA would benefit by showcasing the best teenage players in the world.

Not only that, but I believed it was good to show future stars that everyone should go to college.

I was very wrong.

Fact is, guys like Rose, Mayo, and DeRozan, never belonged in college basketball. They were good enough to be in the NBA right out of high school. More importantly, they were always basketball players, and only grudgingly students.

But the scandals in college haven't caused the professional league executives to pause in their thinking.

Before the start of the NBA Finals, Commissioner David Stern said he's going to try to institute a 20-year-old age limit during the next round of collective bargaining.

He compared the current age limit to that imposed on people seeking national office.

“I don’t know why our founders decided that age 25 was good for Congress, but I guess they thought that was about maturity,” Stern said in The New York Times. “For us, it’s a kind of basketball maturity.”

He added that high school players who don't want to go to college can either play in the NBA's Developmental League, or go play in Europe.

But honestly, is a 20-year-old, who was treated like a god in college before deciding to drop out, really more mature than an 18-year-old trying to start his professional career right away?

Some of the best players in the NBA today are guys who bypassed high school—NBA finalists Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are two.

If Stern is really concerned about the maturity of NBA players, he needs to modify the age limit and create a better minor league system.

Here's what I mean:

  1. Keep the NBA Draft two rounds, but allow teams to select any post-high school player, or 18-year-old that has declared himself eligible.
  2. Create an age limit for players who actually play in NBA games—19 or 20.
  3. Either create a minor league system more practical than the NBDL, or form a partnership with professional European teams.
  4. Require all underage draftees to play an entire season in the NBDL, or in Europe.
  5. Allow these draftees to play in the NBA once they meet the age requirement and have played that ENTIRE season elsewhere.

With this system, or something similar, NBA teams would then be able to use late first-round and second-round picks, not as roster fillers, but as a way to build for their futures.

As a result of an entire season or two overseas, the NBA would receive more ready-to-play and definitely more mature players.

Until something similar is instituted we'll continue to read about the scandals caused by one-and-done players.

This spring, it was USC and Memphis that took the hits for gambling on NBA-ready players. Who will it be next year? My bet is on Mississippi State, who picked up the commitment from the would-be Trojan Sidney.

Until the NBA does something about its prohibitive draft rules, college basketball will continue to suffer.


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