The end of the one-and-done era of college basketball might be on the horizon, albeit the relatively distant horizon. The current NBA age limit rule, adopted in 2005, requires that a player be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school prior to participation in the league. Although this rule doesn’t stipulate that players must spend that year in college, it is the preferred option for virtually all high schoolers with NBA aspirations. Upon conclusion of their first season at the college level, players are free to leave amateurism behind and enter the NBA draft. The term one-and-done was coined in reference to those players who bolt for greener pastures after choosing to serve their mandated one year waiting period among the college ranks.
The current age limit rule has been widely unpopular, however, and the epoch of the single-season college star could come to a close at the expiration and subsequent renegotiation of the current collective bargaining agreement seven years from now. Speaking to the media prior to Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals, league commissioner Adam Silver again shared his view on the NBA’s age limit and its byproduct, the one-and-done concept. His message, in essence, was that the current system is not good for the league, teams, agents, players, colleges or really anyone involved, and that change is definitely warranted. However, he admitted that all parties coming to an agreement on what those changes will entail could become somewhat complicated.
Prior to 2005, players who felt they were ready to compete at the professional level were free to make the jump straight from high school to the NBA, which some did. Among the most successful to make the transition from prep to pro are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The National Basketball Players Association never had a problem with giving players the option to come straight out of high school, and it would like to see the age limit reduced to 18. Of course, for every high school to NBA success story, one could cite multiple examples of players who failed miserably, such as Lenny Cooke. For this reason, the league is pushing for an increased age limit to give young players more time to develop physically and emotionally before joining an NBA locker room. College teams undoubtedly savor being able to recruit highly talented players knowing that they are unable to enter the NBA, but certainly would rather have them for more than one season and thus they, in theory, would also be in favor of an increased age limit.
Upping the age limit may not necessarily mean more years in college for these players; it may result in them skipping college altogether. During his media session, the commissioner also shared that many NBA teams are unhappy with the level of development of incoming college players. He suggested that the NBA might look into alternatives to the college experience, such as creating an enhanced G-League (formerly D-League) or a more structured overseas network.
Should fans of the college game be concerned about the possibility of a diminished product due to a loss of high end talent across the board? Perhaps, but the contention could be made that by losing some of the most “NBA ready” players, the game itself might become better. Fewer players leaving college early would translate to more upperclassmen and perhaps a more fundamentally sound and more watchable style of play. With more juniors and seniors headlining rosters, the game would see an increase in passion and emotional investment, which is exactly what college sports fans tune in for. More Jimmer Fredette’s, JJ Redick’s and Frank Mason’s would headline the NCAA tournament. Nobody would benefit more from this potential rules change than college basketball aficionados. I, for one, am rooting for this change, and sooner rather than later.