Wednesday, June 22

Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Ball

I'm thoroughly disappointed that the NBA players' union would agree to raising the minimum draft age to 19 (though it will still be 18 for foreign players, apparently on the grounds that the NCAA is less interested in foreigners).

There's no justification for this. Yes, professional football managed to get away with get away with the Clarett ruling--a legalism based on the fact that there was a collective bargaining agreement. That meant it was up to the union to stand up for the right of legal adults to make their own decision about declaring for the NBA draft. Players routinely go from high school directly into professional baseball--which finances its own minor leagues. You have to be eighteen to drive in a NASCAR or Indy car race, but you can be offered a contract before that, as Childress Racing recently did with a 15-year-old, and those kids are risking a hell of a lot more than personal disappointment. Children too young to drive have played professional golf and tennis, and they routinely sign endorsement deals in the glamour Olympic sports without losing their eligibility.

Indianapolis is the home of the top NBA prospect among next year's high school seniors, Greg Oden, USAToday's 2005 Player of the Year as a junior, who has just been told by people already on the gravy train that he can't board for another year. By all reports this is a kid with a level head on his shoulders. He hadn't announced his intention to turn pro. What does the requirement to wait a year do, besides give him 12 more months to blow out a knee? Tell the fans in Cleveland the world would be better off if LeBron James had sat out a year.

The Pacers Jermaine O'Neal (drafted while he was still short of his 18th birthday) took a lot of flack earlier this year when he claimed there was a racial component to the drive to raise the draft age. I think it's by and large financial, but it's hard to argue race is not at least a factor when nobody seems to care about baseball players, and nobody sheds any tears over the lost childhoods (and more) of young girl skaters and gymnasts. If we're really so all fired concerned about these kids, let's do something for all of them, not just the top athletes: let's put money into public schools and give even the scrawny, geeky ones a real chance.

9 comments:

KathyR said...

It's true that plenty of baseball players get drafted out of high school and it's true that baseball has lots of room in lots of minor divisions for them. But the trend, at the top end of the baseball draft anyway, is definitely favoring college players. There are good reasons for this in baseball. It's the very rare kid who's ready to play major league baseball in his teens.

I get what you're saying with respect to Doghouse's Libertarian Draft Rules and I don't necessarily disagree. I do think some big changes need to be made in the way players are mishandled and taken advantage of in the big money college sports. But it's dicey to offer those kids more goodies and incentives while you don't do the same for any women's sports or you shut down your water polo or lacrosse programs to support football and basketball.

doghouse riley said...

Okay, the one sure way to get me to respond in comments is to call be a libertarian (and I'd suppose the libertarian position to be that the NBA can run things however it chooses, anyway)....

I have no problem with controls, equitably set. I do have a problem with phony moralisms being used as a cover for economic self-interest. The NBA is concerned about appearing "too black"; that's just an established fact. And they're trying to eliminate the risk of signing younger players by restricting the rights of those players instead of exercising self control. And the union swapped those rights for a bigger piece of the pie for its current members. It's outrageous. The greed of those folks, and the stench that is college athletics, should not be balanced on the back of Mr. Oden.

As for baseball, it has a de jure anti-trust exemption, unlike football, which the appellate court granted a de facto one. Players can now be drafted and choose to go to college, but if they do they cannot sign a contract for three years, which will cease to be an injustice when you can't give Hillary Duff a recording contract until she's earned her associate's degree.

And yeah, our universities are filthy in all this. They've exploited young athletes in the big money sports and backhanded everyone else. But forcing blue chippers to sit a year, go to Europe, or donate money to the big-time program of their choice isn't going to make things better.

Yosef said...

Ah, the NBA stinks anyway. Basketball ends after college. Just send your guy down to Wake Forest and let him become POY for the NCAA.

WatchfulBabbler said...

No question that the 19-and-up draft rules are the result of parochial interests at play (and if the Doghouse Rules were genuinely libertarian, there would have been a lot more complaining about how Lochner was a fascist attack on our rights to sell ourselves into unrestricted slavery). College sports are the most brazenly corrupt institution since Boss Tweed decided to get out of the chairmaking business, and the NBA is serving both its own media image and the universities' need for sports cash and exposure in its decision.

Drew said...

This has always been an entertainment issue to me. The NBA is an entertainment business, not some poverty intervention program. Watching people like Jermaine O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Sebastian Telfair, Kwame Brown and many others 'develop' for $100 a ticket is stupid (look it up, they all had piss-poor stats their first couple of years). Also, it doesn't help the teams at the bottom who are now forced to draft high school students, pay them to sit on their bench for 3 years and then lose them to free agency.

Drew said...

Also, Gymnastics, tennis, skating, track et al are nonsensical comparisons. Those are individual sports where the competitors determine their earning ability through their talent. No one gives a gymnast a gold medal because some sleazy scout said she's got a great vertical leap.

That, and people seem to misinterpret the argument for an age limit as wanting to force black people to go to college. Personally, I couldn't give a rat's ass where an 18-year old kid of any race goes, just as long as I don't have to pay $100 to watch him take a roster spot away from someone who can contribute right now.

KathyR said...

That "libertarian" thing was just a little stab. If I'd known how many skewering devices you owned, I might not have said it...

doghouse riley said...

Kathy, I trust you know I didn't take it seriusly.

And drew, no argument, certainly not from Indiana, where we've watched Al Harrington disappear every year in the playoffs while growing up (before requesting a trade) and watched Jonathan Bender spend more years on the DL than he spent playing ball before signing a contract. But that ought to be a matter of franchise discipline, not disenfranchising young players.

Hokie said...

Yosef: Except Wake sucks. Send him to the Illini!

Personally, I'm all for the way it was. The reason college basketball's been as exciting as it has been is that the truly elite players are skipping college altogether as opposed to all clustering around the Dukes and North Carolinas.

With regard to public schools, I've never understood the hangup on them other than if it comes from "We can't completely control them." I know my experience is probably not representative, but I've been in public schools my entire life, including college and grad school, and I have nothing but good things to say about my education, both academically and socially. This last point is, I think, more than can be said by many people who were homeschooled or went to private schools.