BY Art Thiel 10:26AM 04/02/2012

Thiel: Change college rule to two years, or zero

Don’t blame Calipari for exploiting the one-and-done rule at Kentucky; that’s his job. A 2-year minimum, or no minimum, is better than the current silliness.

At least Washington's Terrence Ross had a couple of years of college. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

If Kentucky wins the NCAA men’s basketball title Monday night, as most expect, John Calipari, known as Coach Vacate, his ways will not be validated. Too late for that.

Win or lose against Kansas, he already has been validated. That day in August 2009 in Lexington when he signed a $31.65 million contract for eight years was all the validation required.

Despite the fact that two schools he coached to the Final Four subsequently had their seasons vacated (Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008) for NCAA rules violations, there was no impediment to his re-hire. The NCAA infractions committee thought enough of the violations to sanction the schools after he left, but not the man in charge of the basketball program.

The more current contempt of Calipari, led in part by retired coach and full-time crank Bob Knight, revolves around his ruthlessly effective exploitation of the one-and-done rule, where he recruits players for what is a seven-month internship in college that is mandatory for the pro game. The criticism is misplaced.

As Calipari put it himself Sunday when addressing reporters in New Orleans prior to the title game, “I don’t apologize — it’s not my rule. I don’t like the rule … There’s only two solutions to it: Either I can recruit players who are not as good as the players I’m recruiting, or I can try to convince guys that should leave (for the NBA) to stay for me.”

He’s right. If he recruits lesser players, he gets fired. If he recruits NBA-caliber players, he wins. All he’s doing is working harder and faster than anyone else in mining resources for renewing annually his hoops factory.

The current system of a mandatory year in college has been around basketball for six years, long ago enough that most of us have forgotten why it was created: To save the NBA the time, trouble, money and the embarrassment of having to scout high school games.

Any notion that a year in school would give kids a chance to better themselves is as specious as claiming the presence of weapons of mass destruction was a real reason for invading Iraq. It’s a pretense, a canard, a fig leaf. Many talented athletes today are no more inclined to go to school now that they were 50 years ago when decent livings began to be made in pro ball.

But when players went straight to the pros from high school, colleges were being denied money-making entertainers, and the NBA was being annoyed at having to drive to Saint Bejeezus High in East ‘Hood. In collusion with the players’ association, which also didn’t want to deal with prepsters, the NBA and the colleges agreed on a one-year workaround in hopes nobody who cared had a lawyer and would notice.

So far, so good. Except for the kids themselves. But they rarely have been a priority in the big-time business of college sports.

At least the rule did no damage to Terrence Ross, Washington’s leading scorer who announced Sunday, to the surprise of no one who watched him, that he was going pro. He grew into the job physically and emotionally in the past year, and is ready.

“I wasn’t ready out of high school,” said Ross, of Portland. “I got a range of information, including from the league committee (on draft eligible players). I heard a lot of things — top 10, lottery, end of the first round. Any time you have a chance to go in the first round, you should take it.”

Speaking practically, this was Ross’s first real shot at the NBA, and he’s taking it. The problem with a single year for any is that there is minimal incentive to do what colleges minimally hoped — engage in the charade of academic pursuit. In by September, out by March, before the professors catch up — should there be professors still sufficiently naive to believe the tall kid in the back really cares about Chaucer.

But someone like Ross who stays for a second year at least has the opportunity to stay academically eligible, which may pay off in ways unmeasurable now. The one-and-dones are just feeding the cynicism machine.

The NBA and colleges need to establish a two-year minimum, or go back to zero. Yes, a two-year minimum invites a restraint-of-trade lawsuit, but what doesn’t invite a lawsuit these days? And zero is at least honest, if inconvenient.

Meantime, Calipari gets filleted for something out of his control, rather than punished for what happened during his tenure at UMass and Memphis. As the ultimate corner-cutter on rules and ethics, Calipari provides for the high and mighty in college athletics much from which to choose to criticize. But not one-and-done. That’s like getting mad at the jockey for a mistake in the breeding shed.

Mark Emmert, now president of the NCAA, has been around big-time athletics at LSU and Washington, yet he sounds like a turnip-truck refugee when he says things like this:

“The one-and-done rule . . .  forces young men to go to college that have little or no interest in going to college,” he said. “It makes a travesty of the whole notion of student as an athlete.”

Ding-ding-ding!

Young men with little or no interest in going to college have been going to college to play sports for more than a hundred years. Maybe the best thing about one-and-done is that it sheds such harsh light that even the dimmest may see.

Two years or nothing for college hoops. Anything less is half-assed.


YourThoughts

  • Jbryder1

    Two years maybe Art, but not “nothing”.

    • Artthiel

       Why not? It worked to the players’ benefit for many years.

  • Jbryder1

    Two years maybe Art, but not “nothing”.

    • Artthiel

       Why not? It worked to the players’ benefit for many years.

  • RadioGuy

    I vote for “zero.”  These guys are all 18 years of age or more, meaning they’re legal adults.  Why should they NOT be allowed to pursue their career of choice?  Why is it okay for a high school graduate to enlist in the military and end up dodging bullets and IEDs in the Middle East, but he should have to wait a year to bounce a basketball in the NBA?  Is Kabul somehow safer than the Staples Center?

    • Artthiel

       That’s an argument a good lawyer would make, but no high school senior wants to make the legal argument that would piss off his future college or employer. As has always been the case, the injured party in college sports has no inclination, money or time to pursue redress. It’s possible to sue afterward, but even then, the injured parties are too wealthy to care or too broke to make the fight in court.  

      • RadioGuy

        Then the best solution may be what Brandon Jennings did: Pass on wasting one year in school for no money and head overseas to play pro ball.  Not every player has Jennings’ talent, so they can’t expect the $1.6 million he got for one season in Rome, but a Tony Wroten Jr. would’ve made six figures in Europe or Asia easily, not to mention most teams historically have paid the player’s income taxes and subsidized their apartment and car while they’re there…at least that’s the case in Italy.

        It used to be that playing overseas was like joining a federal witness protection program in terms of visibility, but with so many scouts and the internet, you’re not a member of the Lost Legion these days.  If you’re a legitimate player, the NBA will find you.

  • RadioGuy

    I vote for “zero.”  These guys are all 18 years of age or more, meaning they’re legal adults.  Why should they NOT be allowed to pursue their career of choice?  Why is it okay for a high school graduate to enlist in the military and end up dodging bullets and IEDs in the Middle East, but he should have to wait a year to bounce a basketball in the NBA?  Is Kabul somehow safer than the Staples Center?

    • Artthiel

       That’s an argument a good lawyer would make, but no high school senior wants to make the legal argument that would piss off his future college or employer. As has always been the case, the injured party in college sports has no inclination, money or time to pursue redress. It’s possible to sue afterward, but even then, the injured parties are too wealthy to care or too broke to make the fight in court.  

      • RadioGuy

        Then the best solution may be what Brandon Jennings did: Pass on wasting one year in school for no money and head overseas to play pro ball.  Not every player has Jennings’ talent, so they can’t expect the $1.6 million he got for one season in Rome, but a Tony Wroten Jr. would’ve made six figures in Europe or Asia easily, not to mention most teams historically have paid the player’s income taxes and subsidized their apartment and car while they’re there…at least that’s the case in Italy.

        It used to be that playing overseas was like joining a federal witness protection program in terms of visibility, but with so many scouts and the internet, you’re not a member of the Lost Legion these days.  If you’re a legitimate player, the NBA will find you.

  • Loyal Husky

    Zero or two would be an improvement over the one-and-done phenomenon.  You are right; Ross was ready after two seasons.  But Wroten, who also may leave after one season, was a selfish, careless player who was making the same mistakes in March that he was in October.  He is not remotely ready for the NBA but apparently considered his UW year as time he had to spend, rather than as an opportunity to develop his game or, for that matter, get some academics.  A large number of undeclass playes have declared for the NBA draft again this year; a high percentage of them
    will not make an NBA roster. Wroten, if he declares, is likely to spend the next year or two in an NBA development league or somewhere overseas.  He is not NBA-ready and he hurt the Huskies with his undisciplined, unintelligent play over the past season. I’d rather see the Huskies recruit players or who will stay more than a year and have a team mentality.  Think Roy and Brockman.

    • Artthiel

       How about Spencer Hawes? He was a one-and-done, and I don’t consider him a selfish player. There’s no way to predict the progress of many players, and they can’t be held back if they want to go, no more than Bill Gates or Paul Allen had to finish college before they took on professional careers.
       Wroten did a lot of foolish things, and he did even more spectacular things. He’s a great, but undisciplined talent — as has been the case with many who finally made it into the NBA. Obviously he would benefit by another year in college, but I think he’s had his eyes on the prize so long that the Huskies would be  better off without him.

  • Loyal Husky

    Zero or two would be an improvement over the one-and-done phenomenon.  You are right; Ross was ready after two seasons.  But Wroten, who also may leave after one season, was a selfish, careless player who was making the same mistakes in March that he was in October.  He is not remotely ready for the NBA but apparently considered his UW year as time he had to spend, rather than as an opportunity to develop his game or, for that matter, get some academics.  A large number of undeclass playes have declared for the NBA draft again this year; a high percentage of them
    will not make an NBA roster. Wroten, if he declares, is likely to spend the next year or two in an NBA development league or somewhere overseas.  He is not NBA-ready and he hurt the Huskies with his undisciplined, unintelligent play over the past season. I’d rather see the Huskies recruit players or who will stay more than a year and have a team mentality.  Think Roy and Brockman.

    • Artthiel

       How about Spencer Hawes? He was a one-and-done, and I don’t consider him a selfish player. There’s no way to predict the progress of many players, and they can’t be held back if they want to go, no more than Bill Gates or Paul Allen had to finish college before they took on professional careers.
       Wroten did a lot of foolish things, and he did even more spectacular things. He’s a great, but undisciplined talent — as has been the case with many who finally made it into the NBA. Obviously he would benefit by another year in college, but I think he’s had his eyes on the prize so long that the Huskies would be  better off without him.

  • Hume Cory

    The NBA needs name reconition for the players coming into the league. Highschool players do not play on the national stage. Therefore the driving force behind the one year rule is the NBA looking to get top talent on national tv playing in front of 70,000 at the superdome.

    • Artthiel

       Fair point, Hume. All of Calipari’s freshmen now have a modest national brand. But that’s only 3-4 guys who get the F4 stage. Without one-and-done, the rest would have to be scouted at the high school level, where many more drafting mistakes are made. Remember Robert Swift?

  • Hume Cory

    The NBA needs name reconition for the players coming into the league. Highschool players do not play on the national stage. Therefore the driving force behind the one year rule is the NBA looking to get top talent on national tv playing in front of 70,000 at the superdome.

    • Artthiel

       Fair point, Hume. All of Calipari’s freshmen now have a modest national brand. But that’s only 3-4 guys who get the F4 stage. Without one-and-done, the rest would have to be scouted at the high school level, where many more drafting mistakes are made. Remember Robert Swift?

  • Fred Bear

    They should just make it similar to the agreement that MLB has with the NCAA.   Allow players to be drafted out of high school. If any of those players want to attend college, allow them to do that but with the understanding that they cannot be drafted again for a certain period of time (2 to 3 years).   That way, if a high school player who thinks they are NBA material is not drafted or taken in the second round, they can always have the option of going to college to develop their game.   This puts NBA scouts back in high school gyms, but there are already MLB scouts on high school baseball fields anyway.

  • Fred Bear

    They should just make it similar to the agreement that MLB has with the NCAA.   Allow players to be drafted out of high school. If any of those players want to attend college, allow them to do that but with the understanding that they cannot be drafted again for a certain period of time (2 to 3 years).   That way, if a high school player who thinks they are NBA material is not drafted or taken in the second round, they can always have the option of going to college to develop their game.   This puts NBA scouts back in high school gyms, but there are already MLB scouts on high school baseball fields anyway.