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One-and-done: how to encourage them to stay

By Taylor Sisk

A debate has commenced among UNC basketball fans, and even in the press, over the role P.J. Hairston, a dead-eye 6-foot-5-inch wing from Greensboro, will play in his freshman year at Carolina. The fact that Hairston isn’t scheduled to arrive until the 2011-12 season hasn’t hindered the speculation over his expected role, with the “x” factor being whether Harrison Barnes – the nation’s most sought-after high school recruit in this year’s graduating class – will stay in Chapel Hill for more than one year before continuing on to the NBA. Barnes is also a wing. If he stays, will there be enough minutes for Hairston? And if there aren’t, what will Hairston do?

Among those who scrutinize the world of upper-echelon adolescent athletics (lord, if only offshore wells were half so diligently monitored), the smart money says Barnes splits campus after his freshman year. He’s a “one-and-done” player, say those who consider themselves to be in the know.

One-and-done, a much-heard term in college basketball these days, was the topic of a panel discussion at the 2010 Scholarly Conference on College Sport held in the spring at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

One-and-done refers to a 2006 NBA rule that stipulates that league draftees must be at least 19 years old and a year out of high school. Previously, players could enter the NBA immediately after high school. The rule doesn’t mandate college, but most would-be NBA players see a year of NCAA ball as their best option, though a growing number are opting for a year of professional ball overseas instead.

Gary Williams, head men’s basketball coach at the University of Maryland, chooses not to recruit likely one-and-done players. Sitting on the Friday Center panel, he stated that with any player who says while being recruited that he’s leaving after one year, “You’re going to get a player who probably isn’t interested in school, and this upsets the professors.”

But wait. That’s not Harrison Barnes. Barnes is an honor student and tutor, and widely acknowledged as a well-rounded kid.

Still, why should he sit in a classroom if his dream, and his unique talent, is to play professional basketball? Why should Barnes not be allowed to embark on his chosen career straight out of high school? He can always pursue a college degree in the offseason.

Michael McCann, a professor of law at the University of Vermont and legal analyst for Sports Illustrated magazine, told the Friday Center audience that of the 47 players who jumped from high school directly to the NBA between 1995 and 2005, prior to the minimum-age rule, the “vast majority were drafted in the first round and they averaged more points, assists and rebounds per game than the average NBA player or the average player of any other age group in the NBA.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern acknowledges that the rule wasn’t implemented for the sake of collegiate athletics. “This is not about the NCAA,” Stern says,” this is not an enforcement of some social program. This is a business decision by the NBA…. We like to see our players in competition after high school.”

It’s about building “basketball maturity,” Stern says.

And about building a brand. After playing a couple of nationally televised games a week through the regular season and then in front of much of the world as a commodity for March Madness, a top-tier talent is a celebrity by the time he hits the NBA, a brand that sells big.

As for why the NCAA would prefer that 18-year-olds not be given the choice of entering the NBA, well, obviously, see above. A marquee player, in that one-and-done year, has helped secure a colossal TV package for his conference, generated millions of dollars of revenue for the networks and sold many thousands of jerseys with his name embroidered on the back- for which he’s earned nothing. The administrators of the NCAA would look even more favorably at an age-20 minimum (which they may get), since they argue that a player passing through for a single year makes a mockery of the otion of the “student-athlete.”

Unfortunately, the NCAA does a pretty good job of that all on its own. The only amateur aspect of revenue-generating collegiate athletics is that those who generate the revenues get no paycheck.

The NCAA is understandably concerned about losing ever more players to the NBA. Which is why it needs to pay them.

If Division I universities don’t want athletes intent on only staying one year, they shouldn’t sign them. But if they want players who’ll stay for a while, they should compensate them. Maybe the money is deferred until the athlete is out of school – maybe some or all of it is even contingent on graduation, a contract, with a commitment from the university to educate the kid while he works on his game. But give the players some measure of what they’re due.

Very often from families of lower income than their fellow students, athletes aren’t allowed even clothing or transportation allowances or work-study. “So it’s a tough sell sometimes,” Williams said, “when they see 18,000 people in a gym or the amount of money being talked about in TV contracts.”

“If there was a way to provide a stipend for these players while they’re in school,” Williams added, “where they could be more comfortable on a college campus,” maybe they’d be more likely to come and stay.

That stipend might not make a difference in the decision process of a can’t-miss kid like Harrison Barnes. But there aren’t a whole lot of can’t–misses out there, and fewer than one in 100 Division I players will make it to the NBA.

I’m talking a healthy stipend. The money’s there.

Former NCAA president Gene Corrigan offered another solution some years back. If a player has a “market value to the NBA of $80 million over the next 10 years,” Corrigan said, “he should be allowed to make a deal with an NBA team, put the money into escrow, and go on with his education. Let the NBA cover his insurance.”
Shane Lyons, associate compliance commissioner for the ACC, isn’t a fan of the NBA’s age-19-minimum rule, but is even less enthusiastic about compensating college basketball players. “There is a place for that,” he said at the Friday Center conference, “and it’s called the NBA.”

“We are an amateur sports organization,” Lyons said. “What’s on the front of that jersey is more important to a collegiate fan than what’s on the back of that jersey. If we start going down this road that we’re going to pay athletes, we just became a minor league for the professional sports organizations.”
Hmmm. “Just became”?

It should be noted that Gary Williams is not alone among college basketball coaches in his antipathy for the age-19-minimum rule. It’s disruptive to continuity.

Which is why many fans don’t like it either. Those of us who would like to see a Tar Heel squad featuring, say, Zeller, Henson, Barnes, Bullock, McAdoo and Hairston – a balance of freshman talent and experience – that could make a deep run into the tournament, should encourage consideration of changes to the current arrangement.

Taylor Sisk is managing editor of The Carrboro Citizen

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  1. Gene Smith

    No one has ever come up with a legitimate way to compensate the athlete. Does every athlete at every school get compensated? Do you pay a John Wall the same amount that you pay his back-up? (Many small schools cannot even afford to give scholarships now.)
    At the big name schools, basketball and football bring in a ton of money, but it goes to fund non-revenue sports. If most of that money is used to compensate basketball and football players, who pays for the scholarships of the non-revenue sports? What if you have a Michael Jordan and a Mia Hamm at your school, do you pay them the same amount? As successful as the UNC women’s soccer program is, it is not a revenue generating sport, but it is a source of great pride to the UNC community. This does not even consider Title 9. Would paying athletes create a situation where the rich schools get richer, and the poorer schools get eliminated? There is a lot of money in college football and basketball, but an even bigger expense tab for the all around programs aspired to by most schools. Compensating athletes sounds fair, but is it really possible?

  2. Thomas Butler

    My thought on the one year and out is this. Let a player in high school who is at least a 5 star player and he feels he will be a first round draft pick go ahead and jump, but if he decides to go to college he should be required to stay a for at least 3 yrs. Let the “super” players go ahead and jump, but the 4 star and under players who are not ready for the NBA or are not sure they would make it, should take time to mature during their 3 years of college. Also a player who goes for 3 years could possibly get his degree in that period which would help him later in life. I realize that we cannot force any body to stay in school or refuse them a chance to move on to better things, but it they want to play in college, the college needs to know they are committed. Once the player chooses to sign, they are agreeing to at least a 3 year commitment. This helps the coach, the school, the NCAA and the player.