Offline, the FTRS editorial staff was engaged, for a while this week, in a discussion about the impact of one-and-done players in college basketball. Joey is of the opinion that these prima donnas have degraded the college game to the point where it's not as interesting as before. I disagreed. Joey is a great guy and said, "put up or shut up with your argument." So I said, "OK boss." Here is my essay on said position.
Basketball is a sport of relative strengths. Unlike golf, where players compete against a standard (the golf course), in basketball you compete against other teams of players at a substantially similar level of development. The basket is still 10-feet off the floor and the court is still 94 feet long, but your level of play is not determined by how well you perform versus those measurements. It is determined by how well you perform against the other players. From season to season these players may vary slightly in experience or skill, but they are essentially the same, overall, from one year to the next. They are the universe of college basketball players.
To say college basketball is less interesting because a few players each year leave for the NBA after one year is forgetting the fact that large numbers of seniors leave every year. Another substantial number leave because they are not quite good enough (that was my plight after two seasons) or not quite up to the academic requirements of post secondary education. Their departures' impact on the game is much greater than 20-25 freshmen leaving early each year. Remember, each team still has the best 12 guys they can recruit and keep in school. So the overall relative strength of the players is still pretty much unchanged. While Georgia Tech may not be as good immediately after their departure without Iman Shumpert or Derrick Favors, there is a steady stream of equally good players coming into the system every year.
Certainly, if your team loses a few players, as did Kentucky, it creates a huge lack of continuity for that team. My concern is not that some players leave after one year, but that some coaches target these players in their recruiting. When Kentucky signed the big class that brought them the NCAA title last year, they knew most of those guys would not be in Lexington beyond the NCAA Tournament. Is John Calipari a bad guy? No. Is UK a rogue university? Absolutely not. They are just playing the system.
My point is that the overall product called college basketball is basically unchanged by the absence of these one-and-done players. You cannot make a legitimate case that college basketball is worse today than it was prior to 2005, when the NBA raised its minimum age, or prior to 1974, when the courts ruled the NBA could not refuse to consider high school graduates just because they had not attended college for four years.
Louisville may be the best college basketball team ever. They sure looked damn good this weekend. Are they better than last year's Kentucky team? What about the UCLA teams with Lew Alcindor? Or the Ohio State team with John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas? There is no way of knowing. To speculate about it may be fun, but that is all you will ever get from the argument.
So, what would I do to change the college game? Check out the Ed O'bannon suit against the NCAA. While I do not agree with all his demands for resolution (especially related to paying players), his call for five year scholarships is exactly what is needed. And I would make them binding on both the player and the NCAA members. This would end one-and-done players in college basketball. It would say to the NBA, "you are not part of our decision making." You know what? They might complain for a bit, but the NBA would adjust and go on as ever before.