Brandon Jennings to Europe: The Start of an NCAA Trend?

Field Yates@FieldYatesCorrespondent IIIJuly 22, 2008

The recent decision of top point guard recruit Brandon Jennings to back out of his commitment to the University of Arizona has sparked yet another debate regarding the entry rules for the NBA draft. 

Jennings, who has yet to meet the NCAA requirements for standardized test scores, has signed with the Italian League team Pallacanestro Virtus Roma.

Jennings will forgo his NCAA eligibility and presumably throw his name into the 2009 NBA Draft's hat, where he is currently projected as a high-lottery selection. 

While terms of the contract remained undisclosed, one can assume that Jennings will receive a paycheck that will safely launch his money-making career.   

The move by Jennings was surprising to some.  Why would a Southern California-born player with legitimate NBA talent miss out on the opportunity to star at a Top 25 program and lead his team to March Madness?  To others, the move was only surprising because many expected a move like this to happen much earlier.  

Since the NBA installed a provision to their draft that required players to be one player year removed from high school graduation, the "one and done" phenomenon has risen to unparalleled heights. 

The past two drafts have led to epic debates over "Oden vs. Durant" and "Rose vs. Beasley."  Experts, executives, fans and analysts nitpicked every aspect of the debate, and ultimately four freshmen basketball players have completely redesigned the landscape of the NBA draft.    

Why even bother going to college one would ask?  If a player's commitment to a university is predicated upon the possibility of starring for one year and raising their draft status, why not do the same while earning a six figure salary overseas? 

Europe offers a variety of highly competitive leagues that feature former NBA and NCAA players, and fans pour in to stadiums to watch the very best teams.  Brandon Jennings will presumably up his draft status by refining his skills, while also driving an enormous amount of press and marketing opportunities for him to capitalize upon.    

The prospect of playing overseas with a language barrier is daunting to say the least, but the promise of a $300,000 contract and exposure to playing a sport professionally is at least equally as enticing.  Shockingly no prospect of significant notoriety has made this move in recent years.    

The fear for college basketball fans is that this will evolve from an exception to a trend.  

College hoops is slowly becoming less about teenage and early adults fostering positive relationships and competing for the love of the game, and more about a platform to groom top prospects and experience a small slice of Hollywood lifestyle while on campus for a year.   

The NBA faces a supremely difficult situation going forward. 

The advent of this rule was due in part to the critics who cited high school phenomenon's turned professional busts as a red flag.  For every Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant there is a Kwame Brown and Leon Smith—high draft picks who have faded into mediocrity and anonymity. 

Now critics are chastising the NBA for this rule, drawing comparisons to tennis and golf where teens and even pre-teens are entering the pro-circuit. 

The NFL has managed to find a rule that appeases the players, coaches, and the league; and this certainly puts pressure on the NBA. 

The MLB and NHL are assisted by formidable minor league systems that allow teams to invest in a player and let him grow and mature while playing with other players around his skill level. 

Meanwhile, the NBA opens the door to "hit or miss" investments and wretched criticism from many different angles. 

Going forward there are a few options that the NBA can investigate. 

The first is to just abandon the one year rule and re-implement the stipulation that a player must only have graduated from high school to play in the NBA.  In doing so, the NCAA is relieved of its diluted nature that arises from having colleges essentially "rent" a player for a year. 

This also eliminates the risk of a player suffering any significant injury or legal issues that could occur during his freshman year—which in turns hurts the NBA as well. 

The NBA does however open up the door to more prospects jumping ship from high school and forgoing his eligibility in college, and not being drafted or never finding success. 

The NBA draft has exactly 30 guaranteed contracts built into its collective bargaining agreement.  With the infusion of international players the NBA draft pool has never been larger.  Any player, regardless of nationality or age runs the legitimate risk of not being drafted or missing out on a guaranteed contract.  

The NBA could adopt a plan similar to or identical to that of the NFL, which states that a player cannot become eligible for the draft until three years after his high school graduation. 

This would allow high school players to mature, grow, and improve upon their natural talent while facing talent that will more accurately test them than the high school ranks.  The nay sayers of this policy will cite the same argument that tennis and golf allow players to enter early, so why doesn't basketball? 

Additionally, some fear this would open Pandora's Box to the European leagues.  One can speculate that a three year contract might reach seven figures for a player overseas, particularly one of the stature of a Greg Oden or a Michael Beasley. 

To protect the quality and tradition of NCAA basketball, the NBA might hesitate to make such a move.   

The NBA faces a decision that directly affects the quality of its product going forward.  The NBA draft is becoming increasingly more of a year round process, and players are targeting their careers at an unfathomably young age. 

Teenagers are committing to colleges prior to their sophomore year in high school and preparing to play only one year at a major university, all in the hopes of becoming the next franchise piece in the NBA. 

The bottom line is that it is unlikely that there will ever be unison and total agreement on the rules for declaring for the NBA draft.  One thing is clear though: the NBA must decide upon a policy that it fully supports and endorses before this debate will ever end.