Ben Simmons gets it. He’s one of dozens, maybe hundreds of players who accept a college basketball scholarship only to leave a year later for the NBA. After missing his first year in the NBA with injury, Simmons is proving to be the future of the league in his rookie season with Philadelphia. After his one season at LSU ended and he began his preparations for the NBA draft, he said the following regarding the NCAA:
“The NCAA is really f—ed up. Everybody’s making money except the players. We’re the ones waking up early as hell to be the best teams and do everything they want us to do and then the players get nothing. They say education, but if I’m there for a year, I can’t get much education… I got B’s and C’s; I’m not going to class next semester because I don’t need to… I’m here to play, I’m not here to go to school.”
Simmons, despite being one of the best players in his single season of college basketball, was not eligible for the Wooden award because he did not maintain a 2.0 GPA.
While not many other players have recorded their disdain for the NCAA and the NBA’s rule essentially mandating one year of college play or play elsewhere before the draft, Simmons is not alone. Even Josh Rosen of UCLA, one of this year’s top NFL Draft prospects, has expressed his frustration at the expectations placed on student-athletes.
“There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL. There’s no other way. Then there’s the other side that says raise the SAT eligibility requirements. OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes, and then the product on the field suffers.”
The NFL side of this issue is certainly more complicated; very few if any 18-year-olds are anywhere near ready for the physical rigors and challenges of professional football, but the NBA has already proven in very recent years that they can do just fine without the one-year requirement. To be clear, the rule is that no player can sign with an NBA team until they are 19 years of age, one year removed from high school. Some players have avoided college play and gone elsewhere for their one year, including Knicks point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who played professionally in China for one year before becoming a lottery pick for the Denver Nuggets. Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker spent an additional year at his high school/prep school after graduation before entering the draft in a sketchy but whatever move.
Recent findings within college basketball, including those at Louisville and Arizona among many others, are nothing new within college athletics, but the evidence is making it very clear that the NCAA is broken. The intent in instituting the one-year rule was at least partially to get kids into college as a backup plan in case basketball doesn’t work out. That’s a cause everyone can support, but what was once an upstanding institution set on helping athletes become better students and people has now become a banner under which wolves in tracksuits lie in wait.
It is certainly not the athlete’s fault, at least not completely. Once again, money and greed ruins something that could be great. Agents continue pushing the envelope and shoe deals get bigger, contracts more lucrative, and 19-year-old kids end up with more money than they can handle. Sometimes, they get it earlier than is legal, and this mess will take a LONG time to clean up. There are already other alternatives to college that few have taken, but the NBA is already looking into other options:
“We’re spending a lot of time on [youth basketball]. I think there is a big opportunity, on a global basis, focus on elite players in terms of better training, better fitness, so that they ultimately can be successful at the highest level,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “That is something from a league standpoint, together with our teams, we’re putting an enormous amount of energy and resources into.”
Some have suggested a system similar to that of European soccer teams, who institute youth academies for children who excel at the sport. The league is looking at an expanded G League system. Hell, even Lavar Ball is shouting something that makes decent sense, apparently planning to start a pro league for high school athletes to play in before going to the NBA Draft. Of course it’ll have some obnoxious Big Baller name to it, but Lavar Ball has suddenly become more trustworthy than Rick Pitino or Sean Miller, and that’s a terrifying statement to consider.
If the options aren’t readily available, they will be soon. It’s time to drop the NCAA, and time for the NBA to reach its full potential.