The NBA recently submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association to lower the official draft eligibility age from 19 to 18 in February of this year, and there are quite a few strong opinions on the matter.
I happen to have some opinions of my own, and although I’m not an NBA player, I am a college graduate and I believe I have some relevant insight into a situation that I believe to be a non-issue.
The effective date for the age change would not come until the 2022 NBA draft in an effort to give teams on both the NBA and collegiate level time to plan ahead. There are some minor negotiation obstacles for the NBA and NBPA to work through such as the proposed requirement for agents to provide medical records on the players entering the draft, and mandatory attendance at some of the draft combine events so that teams know what they’re getting into with the players they’re looking to sign. However, both parties seem open to the age amendment and expect decisions within the next couple of months.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke on the proposal stating,
My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change. … When I’ve weighed the pros and cons, given that Condoleezza Rice and her Commission (On College Basketball) has recommended to the NBA that those one-and-done players now come directly into the league, and in essence the college community is saying we do not want those players anymore. That sort of tips the scale in my mind that we should be taking a serious look at lowering our age to 18.
Silver also noted that the 19 year old age limit was no longer working either for the NBA or for college basketball.
So, what’s the big deal?
Well, proponents of higher education would say that if players declare eligibility before college they miss out on valuable education they will need later on in life. They don’t want to encourage high school students to skip college in pursuit of an NBA career.
My question is why not?
I’m a college graduate, and while I will say that my time in college was valuable in terms of the experiences I had learning to grow up and be on my own, I can’t speak very highly of the type of education I received in terms of how it prepared me to be a professional in the real world. Particularly in my freshman year.
As children, we’re taught that a college degree will set you apart from others and prepare you for a job in the real world, and there’s a common misconception that once you get a college degree you’re going to walk right into a successful work force and have it made. As us college grads know all to well, that is absolutely not the case.
My first year in college I sat through classed filled with 300+ students learning about the species classification system in biology, complex algebra formulas, and reading Shakespeare plays to discuss their importance with my classmates. My teachers were excellent, and the course material was always top notch.
All of these classes were sold to me as “general education requirements,” but not once was I taught how to sit on a Board of Directors, how to use interpersonal skills in the workplace, employing negotiation tactics, or how to manage a stock portfolio. You know, things that actually matter post-college.
I did however get to witness one of my classmates declare eligibility for the NBA draft, and over ten years later, he still has a thriving career. I graduated from high school in Colorado Springs in 2003 where I then went to college in Ft. Collins, CO. I happened to go to the same school as Jason Smith who was a big name basketball player for our campus. I was a year ahead of Smith in college, and I still remember hearing about when he declared eligibility for the draft.
Just like today, everyone had an opinion.
Some were worried what would happen if he never finished his education and his career ended early. Others, like me, were happy for him and knew that if his career ended and he needed to continue his education he could simply go back to school and obtain his degree.
You see, the skills we need in the real world have all to do with business skills that come from practicing in our chosen field. We learn how to work as a team, play a role, conduct ourselves professionally, and work with others to accomplish a group goal.
And is that not what young men can learn when they enter the NBA? I would argue that some of the top professionals in the world work within the NBA, and learning the professional skills taught by the league sets some up in even BETTER than ways I’ve seen colleges prepare young people for their future.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not against higher education, and I don’t think everything college teaches is useless. What I’m saying is that postponing college, or even skipping college, will not always be a detriment to someone’s future.
Sure, maybe once Smith retires from the league he’ll want to go be an aeronautical engineer. That skill set requires very specialized training that may require him to go back to school to learn. But, maybe Smith has learned all the important skills he needs in order to be successful in the business world. Maybe college isn’t the ONLY place we can learn how to be successful and build a legacy for our families.
Furthermore, one year of college changes no one in terms of their level of education. Say what you want, but my knowledge of Romeo and Juliet hasn’t exactly given me a competitive advantage in the construction industry where I work, and am successful today.
Back to the topic at hand, I think changing the age limit for entering the NBA could pose one problem, and that’s the disparity in skill level going straight from high school to the NBA. Not everyone can be LeBron James and enter the league out of high school ready to revolutionize the game.
Many players truly need the experience they get playing in college before they enter the league, and if they don’t get it, their careers can be crippled (Emmanuel Mudiay for example). In college, some get to work under the leadership of the best coaches in basketball (college or NBA), and they learn invaluable information during that short year’s time frame.
If the league wants to allow players to enter from high school, they’ll need to come up with a program to support the new recruits and get them the training they need. Perhaps that means the G League will become more prominent, giving young NBA hopefuls a chance to get the experience they need while also giving them a chance to make some money. That way if they don’t make it onto an NBA roster, they’ve at least earned a little bit of money so they don’t have to go into massive amounts of debt learning about what classes of whale species exist in the world.
I’m all for the NBA lowering the age limit for players entering the league. I think it will only improve the quality of college basketball as players with skill sets lower than the NBA level want to play post-high school will get a chance to shine, and it will allow the NBA talent to enter the league without risking injury in college first.
I’m excited to see how this decision impacts the league long term. I’m certain it will be positive.