New NCAA prez joins one-and-done debate

On Tuesday, new NCAA president Dr. Mark Emmert spoke to Seattle radio host Mitch Levy. The interview covered a range of topics, but most interesting were Emmert's thoughts on the much-maligned one-and-done rule. The key quotes:

"I much prefer the baseball model, for example, that allows a young person if they want to go play professional baseball, they can do it right out of high school, but once they start college they've got to play for three years or until they're 21," Emmert, who is leaving the University of Washington to take the helm of the NCAA, said in the interview. "I like that a good deal.

"But what you have to also recognize is that rule isn't an NCAA rule," Emmert said during KJR's interview. "That's a rule of the NBA. And it's not the NBA itself, but the NBA Players Association. So to change that rule will require me and others working with the NBA, working with the players association."

This probably isn't the first time you're reading these quotes, but if it was, did you notice that tingly sensation? Could you feel your ears perking up? Don't be alarmed: That's a natural reaction to what, at first glance, would seem to be an encouraging stance from the NCAA's new president on the difficulties presented by the NBA's one-and-done rule. Most college hoops fans agree: The one and done stinks. Baseball's system is better. This, therefore, is an interesting start.

Of course, it's not that simple. Nothing about the one-and-done rule is ever that simple. Which led to Rush The Court's very thoughtful (and much-praised) argument against Emmert's ideas, and the baseball system in general. It's far too long to blockquote effectively, but RTC lays out a few ideas worthy of summary. They are:

  1. The NBA doesn't care about college basketball's opinion, anyway. It created the one-and-done system to help its teams stop drafting unproven talent. It likes this new system. It isn't liable to change it, nor is the NBA Players Association.

  2. Even if you ignore the NBA reality and simply discuss what's best for college hoops, it's still a bad idea. The NCAA needs star power to lure casual fans, and one-and-done players do that. Casual fans equal money. The NCAA needs money.

  3. Before the one-and-done rule, coaches spent lots of time recruiting elite prospects only to learn at the 11th hour those prospects intended to take their talents to South Beach to the NBA. Such coaches were left in a recruiting lurch.

  4. "For better or worse, NCAA basketball is the NBA's minor league." Meaning: The NBA doesn't have a minor-league system comparable to the MLB's, so the best way for players to develop -- and the best way for the NCAA president to ensure the best interests of those players -- is by playing, if only for a year, at the college level.

That's a lot to parse (you should absolutely be reading the entire blog post anyway), and those are all good reasons why universities, coaches, and college hoops fans should be against an optional baseball-style system. There's only one problem in there. What about the players?

Perhaps this argument will seem trite. It's certainly been made before. That's because most of the opposition to the one-and-done rule has come from a different angle -- from those who wonder why players like John Wall and Derrick Favors are (not totally, but essentially) forced to play a year of college basketball when they could be signing a lucrative NBA contract instead. I happen to be one of those people.

Of course, I selfishly enjoy the one-and-done rule; I love getting to watch the best young talent in the country play amidst the atmosphere and hoopla that oftentimes separates college hoops from its pro equivalent. It's great.

But it also forces players, a handful of which have no business in college basketball, into an exploitive system that makes millions each year from their ability and pays them little in return. This system is less egregious when applied to four-year players with little chance at the NBA, because those players got a free college education out of the deal. Players bound for the NBA have no such reward. They have eight months of classes, and that's it. All the while, they risk injury, the fluctuation of draft status, and any other number of things that could put their NBA futures -- in other words, their financial futures -- in jeopardy.

And why? So the NBA can protect foolish GMs who can't resist the lure of potential. (Which still happens anyway; say hello to Daniel Orton.) It hardly seems fair.

Which is one of the reasons -- probably the best reason -- to like baseball's system. The handful of players who belong in the NBA at the age of 18 are given the freedom to pursue that route, same as any golfer, tennis player, Olympic swimmer, professional marksman, or whatever. The rest of the batch, those who shouldn't risk losing their ability to develop as a collegian, must take that college decision seriously. It provides for freedom on the one hand and stability on the other. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would work.

Rush The Court is right to say that's not in the best interest of college basketball fans, or coaches, or universities, all of whom benefit from the compulsory one-year apprenticeship currently being served by even the game's most League-worthy talent. It'd be much better if all players had to stay for three years; we'd get John Wall for two more years! Awesome! Where do I sign?

But that's wrong. John Wall should be free to pursue his NBA career. He should have been free before he ever stepped foot on Kentucky's campus. College, as they say, isn't for everybody.

In proposing a baseball-esque system for college hoops, Dr. Emmert did two things, both of them inadvertent: He made an argument against the well-being of college basketball, and for the professional freedom of college basketball's prospective athletes. What it comes down to is: Which is more important?