John Clay

Maybe Adam Silver can save college basketball from the one-and-done, after all

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke to the media during All-Star Game festivities recently in Los Angeles. ESPN reports that Silver is working on a plan for the league to become more involved with elite high school prospects.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke to the media during All-Star Game festivities recently in Los Angeles. ESPN reports that Silver is working on a plan for the league to become more involved with elite high school prospects. AP

When Adam Silver started talking about changing the circumstances that lead to the one-and-done phenomenon in college basketball, I was skeptical. Now I’m beginning to think the NBA commissioner means business.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Monday that Silver is working on a plan that would have the NBA become involved in the development of elite prospects at the high school level in an effort to provide avenues besides entering into college for one season.

“It would ultimately open an alternate path to the NBA besides playing in college,” Windhorst wrote, “and a way 18-year-olds could earn a meaningful salary either from NBA teams or as part of an enhanced option in the developmental G League, sources said.”

Silver isn’t ready to announce anything soon. He has been on a listening tour with owners, the NBA Players Association and other key figures in the game. In fact, reports Windhorst, Silver would prefer to wait until after the newly appointed Commission on College Basketball presents its report to the NCAA this spring. The commission was formed in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops.

When Silver first publicly voiced a desire to change the NBA’s age-limit rule, you had to wonder why. After all, since previous commissioner David Stern implemented the restriction in 2005, saying that a player had to have either completed one year of college or be 19 years of age, the guideline had worked well for the professional league.

No longer did franchises have to roll the dice on high school talent. A player’s year (or more) in college allowed NBA teams to make more thorough evaluations, including ones in which prospects competed against players their own age or older.

As a consequence, however, the NBA rule fundamentally altered the college game. While often a boon for Kentucky, thanks to John Calipari’s recruiting, the one-and-done system of players spending just one year in college before going to the NBA, has hurt the game overall.

There are fewer players to follow for four years and less cohesion with teams. Just when the average fan gets to know a freshman star, he’s off to the pros and there’s a new roster to learn all over again. The art of watching a young team grow and prosper over four years is practically gone.

Even at Kentucky, which has won a national title and reached four Final Fours via Calipari’s NBA-centric philosophy, I hear more UK fans than ever voicing their weariness with the revolving door nature of the one-and-done.

That’s not to say elite players should be forced to stay in college beyond a single season if they are talented enough to play professionally. We’re talking generational money here, often for young men who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many would be foolish to stick around for a college degree they could receive at almost any time.

Still, the revelations from the FBI investigation have shined a harsher light on the subject, especially considering the alleged transgressions focus on prospects coming out of high school who, or whose families, were offered money to either attend a certain school or sign with a certain agent or financial adviser.

What’s the answer? There seems to be no agreement on one specific proposal. Scrap the age restriction entirely? Let the players hire agents? Golden State Coach Steve Kerr floated the idea of letting any prospect who isn’t drafted be allowed to go to college.

Even Calipari has waffled back and forth, saying he was against the college baseball system — a high school graduate can be drafted coming out of high school, but if he doesn’t sign he must remain in college for three years — then saying he was for it, only to return to his original position of opposition.

Other than favoring players remain in college for two years, Silver has been vague about concrete solutions. For one thing, the commissioner needs approval from the Players Association before he can move forward. He has plenty of barriers to cross before getting something done.

Judging by Monday’s news, however, Silver appears committed to forcing some kind of change. And that’s a start.

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