Adam Silver’s latest thoughts on how to approach the one-and-rule could have a direct, positive impact on unpaid laborers trotting about the hardwood for our entertainment.
To summarize what Silver advocates: The NBA commissioner would prefer to eliminate the one-and-done rule completely, once there are 30 G-League teams in place; one for each NBA franchise.
Expect knee-jerk lament for the demise of college basketball. However, that is both hyperbolic and pure ignorance as to how the sport has remained in a state of relative stability, despite 30-plus years of kids leaving college early (or going straight to the pros).
College basketball is the rare product where the brand is stronger and more important than the on-the-court product. Ownership by fans in college hoops is at another level. People who root for Duke cheer for the name on the front of the jersey, very near literally, more so than the one stitched on the back.
It is why #NBATwitter and #ShootyHoopsTwitter are often at an impasse when talking about each others’ product. The latter side is often ignorant to its issues, although that is only due to their blind love for it, an aspect that is a built-in positive for the sport.
The NBA crowd claims — rightfully, if we are being honest — college basketball’s play is inferior; that, if you like the sport, you must be a lover of awesome crowds.
Much like how a pro wrestling card is elevated when the audience is into it, the same could be said for college basketball. The games are more than games and much closer to events. A modern day, yet toned down version of prizefights from back in boxing’s heyday.
In reality, it is everything else that pairs with the actual games — the pageantry, build, history, romance — playing into the lore. It isn’t just about the game (thankfully).
The point here is clear, even if I made it with a wider context than needed: College basketball is not reliant upon the players as much as it does the name-brand schools and feel of the sport.
There’s more to it than that.
People have long confused one-and-done talent with the actual amount of players who fall in that category. Furthermore, save for the strange run of “too” many kids doing it, when the straight out of high school hoops era was supposedly ravaging college hoops, there were really less than 10 top prospects per season choosing that route.
Even when more, this can be a good thing.
Obviously, a sport would be better from an on-the-court aspect to have as many of the best players available on it, but as we already mentioned, college basketball is unlike other sports in that regard. The game itself is the cherry on top of an already beloved product. Niche? Sure. Yet not one beholden to the ever changing flows of the market.
In fact, I would argue that eliminating those kinds of high school prospects from the equation completely — the one-and-done/straight out of high school talent — creates a net-positive, mostly in roster continuity.
Underclassmen who declare for the NBA Draft largely come from programs that can afford it: Duke or Kentucky or Kansas. Moreover, programs that dance on the line of national relevance, yet rarely land those sort of players, will not be bothered by Silver’s proposed plan.
In an indirect way, this creates a chance for the sport to take a cue from its basketball counterpart, the NBA.
By removing a larger percentage of the underclassmen turnover, it creates an easy task for college hoops to market its stars ALONGSIDE its blue-blood national draws. College basketball can now have two marketing ploys.
It is certainly worth noting that there will always be underclassmen leaving early, but this eliminates a larger percentage of it happening sooner. In this scheme, college hoops can now hold on to “its own” longer.
Imagine a scenario in which most kids are now only declaring to play professionally after (at least) their sophomore season. That is what can happen if Silver gets what he wants. And that’s the cautionary projection, as the NBA’s scouts often prefer “potential” over “production” and will certainly fall in the same trap it did before, selecting 10-ish high school kids per NBA Draft.
By doing that, it essentially eliminates 10-ish college kids turning pro each season, which returns them to the unpaid laborer ranks, and that cycle continues each season until we all of a sudden have a bunch of 4/5-star talent playing while upperclassmen.
Instead of the maligned Grayson Allen being the exception to the cash-in while hot rule, instead returning season-after-season, it will be the rule. The NBA’s talent evaluators will choose the unknown over the flawed known. I mean, how else do we explain Jonathan Bender?
All of this is contingent on the sport’s ambassadors being better equipped to pivot from godifying coaches to giving players their fair share of the limelight, but with the FBI removing much of the romanticism of the old guard media’s favorite trope of making coaches more than guys tasked with winning games, new media can do a far better job painting college basketball’s picture moving forward.
People will lay blame, hate and a general uneducated slew of hatred toward Silver for what they view as an attack on the sport they love, but if we are being brutally honest, all he is earnestly doing is getting rid of players it doesn’t deserve.
Hell, the sort it doesn’t need.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly 10 years. He is old. He also almost made it. Then he was laid off by the big bad industry that does not love him as much as he loves it. Follow him @JosephNardone.