Kentucky might be the most dominant college basketball team we've seen in at least a decade, and they're set for a coronation at this weekend's Final Four in New Orleans. Kentucky's two best players (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) are freshman who figure to leave for the NBA after this season. Those infamous "one-and-done" players.
Meanwhile, Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA, is telling anyone who'll listen that one-and-done players are bad for college sports. He commiserated with Jim Nantz during CBS' Elite Eight broadcast this weekend in an interview that was every stodgy sports fan's wet dream, but he emphasized that the "one-and-done" rule is not the NCAA's rule to change. That's up to the NBA.
And with the debate renewed, the NBA decided to weigh in with a reality check. As Brett Pollakoff reports at Pro Basketball Talk, David Stern said Tuesday night, "A college could always not have players who are one and done. They could do that. They could actually require the players to go to classes. Or they could get the players to agree that they stay in school, and ask for their scholarship money back if they didn’t fulfill their promises. There’s all kinds of things that, if a bunch of people got together and really wanted to do it, instead of talk about it …" What Stern's saying is, put all your March Madness money where your mouth is. If the NCAA really cared, they'd do something about it.
There's more in the full recap at Pro Basketball Talk, but this was my favorite part: "We don’t think it’s appropriate for us to lecture kids as to whether they should or shouldn’t go to school," Stern said.
Right. And it's not the NCAA's place to decide how long they stay. We've had this debate a thousand times, but for the thousandth time: If every college kid could drop out of school and earn millions of dollars tomorrow, how many college students would stick around? One-and-done players don't exist because of any rule but reality. If the NCAA wants to legislate those kids out of school and over to Europe, they can do it, but it'll cost them teams like Kentucky, superstars like Anthony Davis, and all the money that comes with both.
So instead, Emmert will do what the NCAA's always done. Demonize the superstars who sell their product in the first place. "I happen to dislike the one-and-done rule enormously and wish it didn’t exist," he said this weekend. "It forces young men to go to college that have little or no interest in going to college." But who says Anthony Davis has no interest in going to college?
This week Davis was talking about the experience leading up to the Final Four when he said, "Kentucky is crazy and I just love it." Earlier this month he talked to Sports Illustrated about a game-saving block to beat North Carolina, "I was going crazy, jumping up and down, and everybody was grabbing me. I had never done anything like that before." It reminds you of what makes the NCAA's stance here so ridiculous.
Star players who go to college LOVE college. If they don't always love class, you could say the same for half the students anywhere. The experience prepares them for life better than the D-League ever could, and gives them a network of friends and advisers that they'll have for decades. So it rings a little hollow when Emmert says "[One-and-done] simply creates the wrong type of environment."
For instance: Kevin Durant could've gone to the NBA if there were no age limit, but he didn't, and instead he goes back to the University of Texas every summer. Is that bad for college basketball? Do you think Carmelo Anthony regrets Syracuse? Does Syracuse regret Carmelo Anthony? Does everybody have to be Jimmer Fredette for the "environment" to work?
This is an old, stupid argument that'll no doubt come back to life if/when Kentucky wins a National Championship this weekend, so in that case let's be clear on one point: The "system" has never made more sense than it does now. The NBA benefits. The schools benefit. And a lot of the would-be superstars benefit, too. So of course the NCAA thinks it's a "travesty."
The NCAA is a volcano of incompetence, and just when you start think everything's settled, rest assured, they'll erupt again. By passing new rules that make it impossible for kids to test the NBA Draft waters and then come back to school, by refusing to even consider allowing agents to guide kids through the jungle of amateur hoops, and now, by pretending that one-and-done players are threatening college basketball's integrity.
It's all stupider than ever.
If you hear the NCAA complaining about "one-and-done" players, just remember that the whole point of any student's college experience is to prepare him or her for life after college. Kentucky is doing that for Anthony Davis, no different than BYU did it for Jimmer Fredette. But none of this matters, because the NCAA will always be the business that cares a thousand times more about the idea of a "student athlete" than they ever have about the real thing.