Earlier this month, Adam Silver took over the reins as NBA commissioner from David Stern. Early into his tenure, Silver has made several announcements regarding the path he plans to follow in the role. One announcement, was Silver’s interest in raising the age limit for players to be eligible for the NBA Draft.
Currently, to be eligible for the NBA Draft, a player has to be at least 19-years-old or one year removed from high school. The possibility of raising the age limit arose during negotiations for the NBA and NBPA’s current collective bargaining agreement in 2011. At that time, the issue was tabled and a committee was formed to address the issue. Little has been reported about that committee’s findings or suggestions on the issue until Silver took the post of commissioner. Yet, in recent weeks, much talk has centered around the possibility of raising the age limit to 20-years-old.
Changing the NBA’s age limit for entry into its draft will not happen overnight. This is due to the fact that because it is a condition of employment, labor law says that the age limit must be collectively bargained. Thus, Silver and the NBA will not be able to self-impose any change in the age limit. Seeing as the NBPA is currently without an executive director, this is unlikely to be a change that will be instituted swiftly, as the two sides will not be able to collectively bargain.
Nonetheless, given that it is apparent that this issue is a main focus for the new NBA commissioner, attention must be given to it. In that regard, the question becomes, is raising the age limit a good idea?
From an NBA perspective, raising the age limit arguably creates several benefits. First, the thought process is that by raising the age limit, players will stay in college longer and gain a greater education. This, in turn, would likely spur less instances of players going broke or being taken advantage of by advisers, as arguably, they would be better prepared to guard against such situations. However, it is easy to understand how one additional year of college–and no requirement of the completion of a degree–would not completely eradicate those problems.
Another benefit of the proposal from the NBA’s perspective is that by requiring players to wait an additional year to enter the league, their bodies and skills would be more developed to compete at the NBA’s highly competitive level. While the toll NBA players take on their bodies is large, this argument is better suited for sports like football where the chance to develop a greater muscle mass and strength over a year is more important. Additionally, this benefit would arguably negate the NBA’s goal of building up its D-League teams with rising talent.
Gaining a sense of the interests the NBA seeks to serve in raising its entry age limit, the negative aspects of the proposal must also be considered. Arguably, the biggest issue this proposal causes is the possibility of fueling more pay-for-play scandals in NCAA men’s basketball. Pay-for-play scandals occur when a student-athlete takes money or other impermissible benefits from people such as agents and financial advisors. By requiring individuals with the talent to compete in the NBA to remain out of the league for an additional year, the NBA is creating is an additional 365-days worth of time for these impermissible benefits to be doled out.
In the wake of cases like O’Bannon v. NCAA and Northwestern student-athletes’ attempt to unionize, it is clear that movement is being made to pay student-athletes. Opponents of these movements point to the four major professional leagues in the United States as holding the key necessary to prevent the payment of student-athletes beyond their athletic scholarships. These individuals assert, that by removing arbitrary age limitations and allowing the market to drive whether a player is eligible to compete in a league, pay-for-play issues and the call to pay student-athletes beyond their scholarships will be eradicated.
This argument has merit. If a player knows that all that is holding him back from competing in a professional league is his talent level–and not his age or years out of high school–he arguably will be less inclined to take impermissible benefits at the college level. This is because without arbitrary entry barriers to the leagues, players talented enough to be competing professionally–and being compensated for doing so–will play professionally. In contrast, players who are not playing professionally know that it is their talent level, and not their age, that is holding them out of the league and earning money from it. As such, it is arguable that these individuals will take greater care in maintaining their NCAA eligibility, which precludes them from accepting impermissible benefits. They will take greater care in doing this, as they will realize that because a team has not drafted them, their options for furthering their career in sports are limited.
Given the above, implementation of a system which removes arbitrary barriers to enter a league’s draft would arguably reduce pay-for-play scandals. However, it would require a significant amount of collaboration between the major sports leagues and the NCAA. On the one hand, the major sports leagues would have to renegotiate their collective bargaining agreements to remove draft entry barriers. Then, the NCAA would likely have to amend its bylaws related to the use of agents by student-athletes. At a minimum, student-athletes in football, men’s basketball, hockey and baseball would all have to be able to access advisors who could educate them about their draft potential. Save for that collaboration and the time necessary to amend each group’s respective collective bargaining agreements and bylaws, this may be one proposal that largely eradicates the pay-for-play issue without paying NCAA student-athletes. Thus, there is a chance that this proposal is a win-win for all involved.
Source: Forbes Business