Buzz Bissinger: Age limit is a joke

By Henry Abbott

Author Buzz Bissinger, writing in today's New York Times, says he once supported the idea of an NBA age limit. But evidence that it doesn't make players more ready for adulthood or the NBA has changed his tune.

Now Commissioner Stern says he wants to push the N.B.A. age limit up to 20; once again, don’t be fooled. Such a change would mean that superstar players get two years in college to further sharpen their skills. That would certainly make the N.C.A.A. happier as well as the N.B.A. owners who reap the benefits of a free farm system.

But the right decision would be to abolish the N.B.A. age limit. Equally important, professional sports leagues and the N.C.A.A. should stop jumping into the same Jacuzzi together, turning the idea of “student-athletes” into a farce, padding university coffers and keeping the pro owners from having to pay for the grooming of young talent.

If David Stern truly cared about his players’ well-being, he would advocate that all the silliness over the sanctity of the college academic experience stop and that N.B.A.-bound players get some share of the millions of dollars they generate: in the greatest capitalistic society in the history of the world, this may be the greatest inequity.

A couple of points:

  • I don't think NCAA players will ever be legally paid, and here's why: As soon as you do that, it quickly becomes so obvious that this is not an academic operation. Instead, it's a large-scale professional entertainment industry. Which is fine and dandy. But why would you have that on campus? The University of Michigan doesn't house the Rockettes. USC is not the home of Sony Entertainment. If you have professional athletes on campus (who may or may not even be getting an education), somebody's going to clamor for a team made up of, you know, students. Keeping players unpaid is a crucial part of making them appear like undergrads.

  • If we're going to continue to make the case that future NBA players need to learn and mature on campus (as opposed to sell tickets and drive NCAA TV ratings) then let's follow Dean Smith's advice and adjust their schedules to encourage real personal development. Coach Smith proposes that athletes be given their freshman year away from the spotlight, playing only meaningless games, without travel, which would give them plenty of time to adjust to life away from home and the challenges of academia. They wouldn't make anyone any money, but they'd maximize their maturation. Smith has concluded that'll never happen, though. College sports are in the business of using those players to make money, and that's that.