None and Done

For some reason, it seems like the "one-and-done" rule gets a lot of attention this time of year. Certainly I'm guilty of writing about this subject in the fall, and here I am doing it again. But anytime college basketball makes the Times' opinion page, it's going to bring bloggers out of the woodwork. Bissinger and Gasaway probably agree on a few things, but one of them is that one-and-done needs to go. Frankly, I'm of the same opinion. But it strikes me as odd that neither of them follows the money.

Bissinger alleges that Stern's reasons for backing the one-and-done rule (and the proposed "two-and-through") are two-fold. First, it's to protect NBA GMs from themselves. The scars of Kwame Brown and Korleone Young still haven't healed, so the argument goes, and one-and-done is the Sabarnes-Oxley to those Enron-level disasters. Second, Bissinger argues that one-and-done is a sort of handout to the NCAA, forcing superstar high schoolers into collegiate gyms, boosting school revenue.

Gasaway endorses the first line of reasoning, but rejects the second. He points out that the NCAA revenue is largely fixed well in advance of any signatures on letters-of-intent. There's the counterpoint that it doesn't really matter who the great freshmen are, or where they go to school - the NCAA wins if they simply know that every single season, the best high schoolers in the game join the college ranks. And that's fair as well. But even if you accept that the NCAA benefits financially from one-and-done (and given the late Myles Brand's support for one-and-done, I think it's fair to reach that conclusion), you have to wonder _why _David Stern would want to subsidize the NCAA in this elaborate and complicated manner. I mean, can't he just write a check? He's not above doing that, certainly.

Actually, I think Brand has it right on Stern's motivations. In the midst of endorsing a two-and-through arrangement, and buried in the article, Brand notes one of the benefits of more years in school:

The marketability of the stars would be increased in that they would be better known before beginning their professional careers.

Well, I can't disagree with that, I certainly said as much last year. No one knows where Dwight Howard or Amare Stoudemire went to high school; we all know where Derrick Rose went to college. If draft picks are well-known by the public before they ever play their first professional game, there's certainly the possibility that more butts will be in the seats. It certainly makes more sense than an overwhelming need to protect some of the sharpest businessmen (DeJuan Blair's draft night notwithstanding) in the country from their own bad decisions.

Unfortunately for Mr. Stern, the NBA does not own a worldwide monopoly over professional basketball. The most famous reminder of this fact might be Brandon Jennings. Jennings opted to play ball in Rome rather than suffer the indignity of going to English 101 for a semester while playing basketball for free. Some have pointed out that Jennings didn't necessarily go to Europe for the money, rather it was simply the case that he didn't qualify. Of course, since when has a top point guard needed a qualifying test score in order to play college basketball? No, if Jennings wanted to play college ball, I'm quite sure he would have found a way. But he opted to take his game overseas. And as far as I can tell, he stunk in Europe. And even though there were reports that his game was advancing, there was a lot of smugness waiting for Jennings stateside.

But then something interesting happened - turns out, Jennings is really good. Through his first 3 NBA games, Jennings is averaging 22 points (18 shots per game) and 5.3 assists. Not bad for a rail-thin rookie in his first week. And as good as Jennings was in high school, it's hard to imagine that he was this good. The most plausible conclusion is that Jennings got better overseas. Now, it's true that he might have hurt his draft stock. Though he was taken 10th overall, it's certainly possible that he would have been drafted higher if he played in the Pac-10 instead. But keep in mind, Jennings was the test case. There was a lot of uncertainty and concern over his European numbers. Jennings may have cost himself some money, but he also might have made some money for the likes of Jeremy Tyler.

And therein is the lesson for Mr. Stern. Jennings' success might tempt other superstar high school seniors (and juniors!) to follow his lead. Now that NBA teams know that players can get better overseas, the fact that a 19 year old played in Madrid rather than Memphis shouldn't be a reason to not draft him. And getting paid a couple million euros can't hurt, either. Time will tell if Jennings & Tyler remain the exception, rather than the rule. But Mr. Stern is on notice - players like Jennings & Tyler want to be paid to play basketball. And it's entirely his choice whether they play in his league or in Europe.