The NCAA has put pressure on the NBA, even if it didn’t intend to do so.
About one month ago, the oh-so-noble institution that is the NCAA announced its plans for academic reform, set to be enacted in 2015. The reform has a few layers, but, essentially the main purpose is to heighten eligibility requirements.
This makes sense — athletes shouldn’t be held to standards that Brick Tamland could meet.
At the end of the day, college basketball programs still represent educational institutions. Their purpose is to field a team of “student-athletes.” Not ballers who couldn’t tell you the difference between ambidextrous and amphibious — yes, that has happened.
But by requiring prospective Division I athletes to maintain a 2.3 GPA — up from 2.0 — in 16 core high school courses, the NCAA has generated a slew of potential complications.
Most notably, the high schoolers need to be aware of the requirements. What if a kid doesn’t know he needs four years of high school English and that 10 of his 16 core courses must be completed by the start of his senior year? Even if this kid graduates with a 4.0 GPA, he won’t be eligible.
What about a kid who enters his freshman year of high school at 5 feet 6 inches only to grow a foot taller by his senior year? That kid would suddenly be a college recruit, but he probably wouldn’t have initially tried to pursue the eligibility requirements.
So what does this all have to do with the NBA?
Obviously not every high school basketball star will reach the NBA. Only 60 players get drafted each year.
However, each year, there are NBA-ready 18-year-olds attending college for one reason: They have to be 19 and one year out of high school to play in the NBA.
But what if some of those NBA-ready high schoolers aren’t eligible according to the new NCAA standards? Should they really be forced to wait a year to enter the draft?
Here’s a potentially controversial situation. John Smith is the No. 1 recruit in the senior class, and NBA scouts say he would be a top pick if he were eligible for this year’s draft. Only he’s 18 years old and has a 2.2 GPA.
Currently, Smith could play for an elite Division I school.
However, under future NCAA bylaws, he would need to attend a junior college, where he could waste a year mired in obscurity and risk losing draft stock. Or he could emulate Brandon Jennings and play professionally overseas until he is NBA-eligible.
Either way, he wouldn’t be in the NBA.
But why can’t he be?
Smith clearly isn’t smart enough to make a living on Wall Street, but he’s talented enough to earn millions of dollars each year as a teenager in the NBA. There’s no substantial reason for the NBA to shut its doors on the Smiths of the basketball world. (And, yes, you could argue the same even if he was academically eligible).
However, lowering the NBA age minimum is not without its complications — namely, prospects with unrefined skills prematurely entering the draft and, consequentially, forfeiting their collegiate eligibility. If those prospects don’t get drafted or simply wash out of the NBA after training camp, they cannot return to play college basketball.
But why can’t the NBA collaborate with the NCAA? Perhaps they could choose to keep the age minimum for all college-eligible players while allowing kids like Smith, who don’t meet the NCAA requirements, to enter the draft.
That proposal also isn’t without its flaws, but it’s at least worth consideration.
Just because a kid is as dumb as your average Waka Flocka song, the NBA shouldn’t deny him the opportunity of capitalizing on his talent.
The NBA was already under significant pressure from the National Basketball Players Association to lower its age minimum. And the pressure increased after Kentucky’s team of NBA-ready freshmen — OK, and two sophomores — went 38-2 and won the 2012 national championship. (I guarantee you Anthony Davis could have posted — at least — Samuel Dalembert in-his-prime numbers in the NBA this year).
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business. It won’t lower its age minimum if the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits of allowing those like Smith in its doors.
But the academic reform definitely adds some (unintended) pressure.