Every year we hear how college athletes have to make decisions whether to turn professional or not in our two big college sports, football and basketball. Each have different rules in conjunction with the NFL and NBA. At the same time there are those who feel the major sports schools are unfairly making tons of money off the backs of these athletes who are paid no real dollars–only the value of their scholarships. Never mind that those scholarships are worth up to $100-thousand over four years at some schools.
However, the battle over whether college athletes should be paid or not can easily be solved if they have more options making it easier to turn professional…or at least think about it.
No solution is perfect but far better than what we have now. The model used in baseball is actually nearly perfect, though. Athletes can turn professional as soon as they finish high school if they want in baseball. They don’t have to spend one year in college as has been the case in basketball for the last few years in a charade that calls them student-athletes even though those talented enough to turn professional only take enough courses to be eligible for one semester. Registering for a second semester has to be done, but attending any classes? That is optional. They will be leaving school as soon as the season ends to prepare for the NBA draft.
That process is a fraud for both the schools and players and apparently will soon be of the past.
The option that makes more sense is something very close to what professional baseball does. A player can sign a contract after his high school class graduates and start trying to work his way to the major leagues in the farm system of the team that signs him. OR, he can attend a junior college and be eligible for the draft again after his freshman year. If he doesn’t like where he was selected he can return to JUCO and do the whole thing again after his Sophomore season. If he still doesn’t want to sign he can transfer for the last two academic years at a four year school. After his junior year when he presumably will be 21 years old he can be in the draft again. He can sign…or return for his senior year. Baseball players can have five years of draft eligibility. None of these drafts have any bearing on eligibility unless the player signs an agent or a contract. They don’t need to “declare for the draft” or withdraw their name. They are just drafted or not and an decide if they wish to sign or not.
One reason this works for the colleges is that despite the increased interest in college baseball it is still not on the level of football or basketball most places and coaches having to work with a potential changing roster on an annual basis has been accepted. A high percentage of a top team’s juniors who are drafted sign and leave because if they wait till after their senior season their negotiating power is lessened unless they have had such a good senior season they become a top ten draftee.
Why could not a system very similarly work for football or basketball? It could staring with the NFL and NBA being allowed to draft and sign high school seniors. This would have little affect with the NFL since few football players are ready physically to play professional football, but the option would exist. As for basketball if the most talented HS Seniors want to take the money and turn pro they would have that option. With the development of the G-League the NBA is even getting closer to having a real full minor league development level. Not all the high school draftees would have to take an NBA roster spot.
The elimination of the “fake” scholar athletes from the college ranks does not harm the competitive level of the sport. Some great players have performed in the “one and out” system, but few have led their teams to championships. Basketball is such a team sport those that stick together longer than one year tend to play the game much better. Kevin Durant didn’t win at Texas. Zion Williamson didn’t win at Duke and Kentucky who pioneered loading up on High School All Americans has won only once (in 2012) since they started doing it.
Some stars would be missing in the college ranks, but the turnover would be less.
Yet at the same time college players WOULD have some options. Want to use the 21 year old rule as in MLB? That would give players the option of being drafted after their junior year and again after their senior year if they elected to finish to graduation. OR, if a player wanted he could attend a top JUCO program after HS and be drafted after each year. Players would have more control than now. This could also be altered to allow players to attend a lower level NCAA program, D II or even D III or even NAIA and retain that “every year” draft eligibility.
This would be a boon for the lower level programs that might be stronger than many JUCOs and at the same time give the players more experience and the option of being drafted or even dropping out to turn pro at any point.
Why the protection of the D I programs? They are the money makers. They are the programs that need to keep their top players together to be the best that the public wants to see.
The biggest limit to college players irrationally “turning pro” is the lack of jobs available at the top. The turnover and contract obligations doesn’t open a large number of jobs on the NBA level annually. And other than the G-League minor league options in the U.S. are limited. Add that only those in the top of the draft are guaranteed huge starting contracts and the draft only has two rounds makes staying in school a strong option. That is especially enticing when one knows he CAN turn pro after HS or at worst after three years at a major level college school.
Now, for all of this or something similar to work smoothly must go hand in hand with no requirement to declare and or withdraw from the draft. Just as there is no obligation to sign. No sign…no pro. If players wish to let it be known they would be interested in signing for the right deal that would be fine. But until they actually do sign they retain their college eligibility.
In football giving the high school option (although very few would be signed) allows the athletes the chance to start their professional career earlier if they wish as a trade for a three year committment once they start their freshman year makes sense. Then, as with baseball and basketball once they finish their junior year and reach 21 can be drafted and/or or sign a contract. (The same JUCO or lower level NCAA rules would apply as in basketball.) If they don’t sign they can return for their senior year as amateurs.
The purpose of these adjustments to to allow the very best players who are ready to turn pro do it much easier and earlier than now while at the same time offer some protections to the Universities who have invested huge dollars in their major sports programs have some protection.