NBA and NFL Draft Eligibility Restrictions – Why?

Posted on February 15, 2013 | in Basketball, Football, Problem Solving, Root Cause Analysis, Sports | by

nerlens noel injury kentucky college basketball nba draft

The NBA and NFL both have eligiblity restrictions on draftable players, and those restrictions are very quickly being called into question.

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.

Unfortunately, implementation of these rules have had harsh consequences on both the players and the colleges (but not necessarily the professional leagues).

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.

(Some schools like the University of Kentucky take full advantage of the one-and-done scenario by exclusively recruiting one-and-done players, essentially creating a basketball factory. Hey, the system allows them to do this.)

Brandon Jennings, now playing in the NBA, didn’t want to go to college so he went overseas to play for a year before becoming eligible for the NBA Draft.

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.

marcus lattimore university south carolina running back gamecocks

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).

What problems were these rules to address? The physical readiness of players before going to the NFL? The NCAA basketball talent drain? Preparation of NBA players for learning life skills?

But what did the rules actually do? What were the “unintended” side effects? Risks of injury, players going to college for the wrong reasons, recruiting violations, mockery of the term “student athlete” in many cases, etc.

What I don’t see in any of this is a proper definition of the problems, nor identification and addressing of root causes of those problems.

Is becoming a bust in the NBA a problem? It happens to both young and old players, not just those out of high school. So what if a player wants to jump from high school to the NBA? Lots of college kids don’t make it in the pros.

Is the lack of preparation before the NBA a problem, in the event of becoming a bust? Fortunately the NBA is taking steps to train its young players on life skills so they don’t blow all of their money on an unnecessarily lavish lifestyle.

Is there empirical evidence stating that players younger than 20 are unable to compete at the NFL level? I don’t believe so.

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.

As Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports states:

He (Noel) wants to be a pro basketball player. Let him be a pro basketball player without the charade of college delaying it. Unfortunately, that was not an easy option.

If this injury compromises Noel’s draft status, it’s on David Stern and his league’s minimum age requirement.

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.

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5 Responses to “NBA and NFL Draft Eligibility Restrictions – Why?”

  1. I thought the rules where there with the support of the players’ unions to basically protect the current members (current pro players) by reducing competition from the younger talent.

  2. Rob O'Brien says:

    Is there a rule against an unknown basketball player (or any player) from “walking on” to an NBA team, i.e., without going through the draft?

    • Chad Walters says:

      Rob –

      The NBA Draft eligibility rules indicate that domestic players must complete one year of college or be one year removed from his high school graduating class. The rules are somewhat different for international players, but there is no way of walking onto a team without meeting these eligibility requirements. Players are eligible to be signed as free agents after they are past their first eligible draft and did not get drafted (whereas drafted players’ rights are owned by the drafting teams until the team chooses to release them).

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