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The NBA implemented a rule in 2005 that required players to be 19 years old (other eligibility requirements exist) before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft. Some of the stated reasons for implementing this rule include reducing the talent drain the NCAA was experiencing by having high school players jump straight to the pros, and to minimize how many high school players put a singular focus on basketball instead of academics and aren’t prepared for the real world in the event their NBA careers flop.

The NFL requires draftable players to be three years past their high school graduation, which essentially requires them to stay in college for three years. The reason for this rule is that it’s believed that younger college players aren’t fully developed physically and aren’t ready for the physical demands of professional football.


In basketball, this rule has created the one-and-done scenario for players, as they accept a college scholarship for just one year before bolting for the pros. Many of the players (I concede not all) are only there to play basketball and their interest in academics is very limited. This stretches the idea (the hope?) that students go to college for education and not for athletic pursuits. In addition, it creates a tough situation with the college teams that have to quickly replace a star performer and recruit even harder to find an adequate replacement instead of coaching a player through growth and improvement over a multiple-year stay.

In football, it’s fair to say that most college players aren’t close to full physical development until later in their college career but that’s still a broad generalization. What about those that are ready to compete at the professional level? University of South Carolina defensive end JaDeveon Clowney is being lauded as the potential #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft in April, despite the fact that he just completed his second year of school. I’ll bet the Kansas City Chiefs are disappointed that they can’t pick him with the #1 pick this year. What’s to stop him from leaving school to play in the Canadian Football League for a year? What about leaving school just to prevent risk of injury?

Two high profile college football and basketball players have had their professional sports careers (potentially) put in jeopardy. University of South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and University of Kentucky basketball player Nerlens Noel both tore up knee ligaments (Lattimore for a second time), requiring extensive surgery and rehabilitation.

These types of injuries are always a risk a player takes when playing these games. These injuries also seriously hamper these players’ earning potential in the professional ranks. Lattimore is a special case in that he has now injured both knees in his three years in college, and with the short careers running backs normally experience the extra time spent playing for scholarship money due to the rules prevented him from earning significantly more money at the professional level.

As with Noel, I’m not going to make any assumptions but he, like Derrick Rose and Greg Oden, were probably on a course to be a top NBA draft pick out of high school but the eligibility rule mandated they wait a year. Most of the time that year doesn’t end with a major injury, but it certainly did for Noel. Widely considered the top pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, his earning potential took a serious hit because of the injury and the lower likelihood of being drafted #1 overall.

There are arguments that can be made for players receiving scholarships as their form of compensation, but coming right down to it these rules are a forced form of indentured servitude that aren’t empirically necessary (in the players’ favors).

Kids go into the professional ranks in so many other careers (music, entrepreneurship, marketing, etc) in addition to sports (running, golf, baseball, winter sports, gymnastics, etc) that it seems unfair to apply different eligibility rules for these two sports.

Basically, these rules have been put in place without proper problem definition and root cause identification…or they’ve been put in place for reasons of multi-billion dollar proportions that benefit the schools and leagues but not the players.