Basketball fans, players, coaches, and sportscasters frequently debate whether high school basketball players should be allowed to make the jump to the National Basketball Association (NBA) right after graduation. The truth is, they should.
A popular misconception is that the NBA requires American players to play at least one year of college before entering the league. It is not quite like that. The rule states that for a player to be eligible for the NBA Draft he must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft, and at least one season removed from his high school graduation. This implies that prospective NBA players do not need to attend college in order to get drafted; rather, they could play internationally for a year, or they could wait around until they meet the requirements. However, the vast majority of players choose college as their path to the NBA, due to the fact that colleges offer them scholarships and provide them with a platform where they can showcase their talent to professional teams. Also, most young players are not willing to leave the country and go play basketball abroad, let alone sit around and hope that a professional team notices them.
Basketball players would be better off if they had the choice of skipping college in order to go directly to the NBA. When elite players feel compelled to go to college for at least one year, their prospective professional careers are put at great risk. During that one year in college, players face the possibility of getting injured and becoming unable to play the sport. If they had the opportunity to make the jump to the NBA, much of this risk would be avoided. A multimillion-dollar contract would provide these players with financial security. Having the assurance that their immediate needs are covered, the most talented players would spend their time doing what they are best at, instead of trying to divide their time between basketball and classes. At the end of the day, these classes bring little benefit to the players, since many players decide not to return to school for the Spring semester after they play basketball in the Fall. If some of those players are actually interested in getting an education, their lucrative contracts would allow them to cover the cost of attendance at a later date.
If the NBA were to draft prospects directly from high school, it would benefit not only the players, but the league as well. Major League Baseball provides a perfect example of how drafting high school players make both the teams and the players better off. We have witnessed how elite players, such as Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodríguez, Cal Ripken Jr., and more recently Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, and Cody Bellinger, to name a few, have forgone college scholarships at top-programs in order to sign with Major League clubs. Having these types of players represent a major payoff for MLB teams, since they can have a younger roster, develop players better and have a considerably lower payroll, given that these young players make a fraction of the salaries that more seasoned players make. At the same time, teams also benefit from increased revenue due to the appeal that these young players have to the fan base. Before the current rule was in place, the NBA also had its fair share of top players who came into the league straight out of high school, including Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Another possible problem with the draft eligibility rule is that it might be driving talent away from the NBA to other sports. Multi-sport athletes have an incentive to go pro in baseball, instead of doing so in basketball, given that they can get drafted out of high school. That was the case with 4-time All-Star MLB player Carl Crawford, who turned down a scholarship to play basketball at UCLA to, instead, become a pro after getting drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Rays. If the NBA gave these athletes the same choice Major League Baseball does, we might see more players leaning towards basketball.
The NBA Draft eligibility rule should definitely be changed. This would make the league better, and also provide players a better opportunity for success.
Oscar Nieves is a student of Intermediate Microeconomics at the University of Central Arkansas. The column has been vetted by Joe McGarrity, a professor of economics at the University of Central Arkansas. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .