The NBA's players association wants the age limit for the NBA draft to return to 18 years old from 19 but will listen to commissioner David Stern's desire to increase it to 20 only if it gets significant concessions to the rookie wage scale and an incentive program for players who stay in school longer.
The NBPA issued a statement to ESPN.com on Thursday in response to Stern's comments since the end of the NCAA tournament last month, as well as former Suns general manager Steve Kerr's column on the same subject on Grantland.com earlier this week.
The rule, which has to be negotiated between the NBPA and the NBA, not the NCAA, has been coined "one-and-done" since so many players play one year of college ball before going pro. The draft rule requires players to be 19 and one year out of high school to be eligible for the draft. The 2005 rule wasn't changed during the latest negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement, as the league was mired in a lockout that limited the season to 66 games.
"The NBPA's position on the age limit has been consistent," said union spokesperson Dan Wasserman after consulting with NBPA director Billy Hunter on Thursday. "An overwhelming majority of the NBPA's members support the ability of potential NBA players to freely pursue their livelihood by allowing high school graduate-age players to apply for the draft. As a practical matter, we recognize that any change to the current rule must sufficiently balance both the league's and players' interests."
NBA spokesperson Mark Broussard reiterated the league's position that a committee would be formed with the NBPA to discuss "various player-league items, including the entry age." But Wasserman said the NBPA has not been asked to commit to a date or agenda for meetings.
Stern was quoted by the Associated Press at a Sprint Store in New York City on April 3 saying, "We would love to add a year, but that's not something that the players' association has been willing to agree to. They would probably say, 'What would you give us?' "
The NBPA knows that if the age ever went back to 18, it would have to concede something to the owners. That is unlikely to happen, so if the owners want to raise the age to 20, then the NBPA's stance is that the owners have to give in on some issues.
The NBPA wants the owners to give rookies more money if they stay in school and provide a quicker path to free agency for those players.
"In our view, an increase in the age limitation benefits the teams and owners in a variety of ways," Wasserman said. "These benefits include a reduction in compensation paid to some of the league's best players over the course of their careers. Although we are always willing to discuss any topic with the NBA, it will be difficult to make any progress in this area if the league seeks unilateral concessions from the players."
The NBPA also said that if the NBA wants to involve the NCAA in the cost of insurance for the top players who stay in school longer, then they should also give up something to the players association.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has lost eight freshmen in three seasons to the NBA draft, doesn't want to see the age limit go back to 18. He said the NCAA and NBA should work together to add incentives for staying in school longer, as well as provide insurance in case of injury.
"We encourage kids to stay in school longer, but they should pay for insurance," Calipari said. "It's about 20 kids max a year, not 400. The insurance should be paid by the school and/or the NCAA. The parents should be able to get hardship loans against the policy and pay back when the kid becomes a pro."
"And if the player stays longer, then they should get a year off their rookie contract," Calipari said. "That would be in the best interests of the NBA and basketball in general. Billy Hunter really does represent those top 25 players. The NCAA should be negotiating with Billy Hunter."
Calipari doesn't like going back to 18, however.
"You would be encouraging ninth-graders to think about the draft instead of worrying about academics," Calipari said. "I can't understand going back. You can't have the baseball model since we don't have minor league basketball. And the D-League is a man's league."
Wasserman added that the NBPA has never said players should leave school early. But the union has remained adamant that it didn't want to take away the choice of its players or future members.
The NBA originally enacted the 19-year-old rule to get its scouts out of high school gyms. Stern went on to say on April 3 that the rule has been misinterpreted that the NBA forces players to go to college.
"Our rule is that they won't be eligible for the draft until they're 19," Stern said on April 3. "They can play in Europe, they can play in the D-League, they can go to college. This is a not a social program, this is a business rule for us. The NFL has a rule which requires three years of college. So the focus is often on ours, but it's really not what we require in college. It's that we say we would like a year to look at them, and I think it's been interesting to see how the players do against first-class competition in the NCAAs and then teams have the ability to judge and make judgments, because high-ranking draft picks are very, very valuable."