As the NBA allows for “one-and-dones” to exist, slowly eating away at the stability and integrity of college basketball, there is a contemporary professional sports league that does it right. Believe it or not, that league is the MLB, home of our nation’s fading pastime. While talented teenagers bolt from schools towards NBA millions, we cannot fault these athletes—many of whom come from low to middle-class backgrounds—for forsaking a college degree to sign lucrative contracts as young as possible.
The current system forces NBA-ready players like Kyrie Irving and Nerlens Noel to go to college for a year, both jeopardizing their health or draft value (notice why I chose these two?) and cutting away at the academic integrity of the schools they attend.
Meanwhile, the system also pushes student-athletes who are not ready to perform at the next level into the NBA, players such as throwback Omar Cook of St. John’s fame (1.7 PPG and 0 NBA starts) and Kosta Koufos (4.6 PPG in 86 starts), a man probably drawn out of school due to the precedent set by more talented Ohio State teammates. (Side note: I attended the 3 OT Celtics-Nuggets thriller ten days ago—Koufos started the game but was nowhere to be found on the court for the last 20 minutes of game time.)
One could go on and on with names like these, including a whole slew of Memphis grads (Shawne Williams and Dajuan Wagner to name just two), and the busts far outnumber the studs, the Durants and Irvings of the world. If the NBA and NCAA hope to strike a balance between fostering talent and allowing superstars to shine bright early, while also maintaining the integrity of the entity “student-athelete,” perhaps they should take a hint from their less popular, less flawed baseball buddies.
While MLB has its share of struggles regarding young talent burning out, their system does a far better job of balancing encouraging superstar talent with pushing teenagers to develop for four years in college.
According to MLB.com, the main categories of eligible players to be drafted by Major League teams are:
- High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
- College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
- Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed
To summarize this summary, a high school senior can enter the MLB Draft upon graduating, but a player who enters college is not eligible for the draft until he has completed his junior year or is 21 years of age. This way, raw talents are encouraged to develop their game at the college level. Many players still immaturely choose the draft, but for the most part only the top talent each year is pushed to declare straight out of high school. No draft system will ever be perfect (if one was, drafting would be really easy…), but MLB’s is fascinating in that it makes athletes and their families do something we often dread: think. The three-year timeframe between graduating high school and being 21 does put a heckuva lot of pressure on prospects, but this tough choice tends to push players toward college rather than declaring straight out of high school.
The numbers don’t lie. Only 5.6% of high school baseball players play NCAA baseball, and well less than 1% get drafted to the MLB straight out of high school. On the other hand, 10.5% of NCAA players go on to play professionally! Now there are differences between the NBA and MLB, one must admit. Terms for guaranteed money vary in the leagues, but each league guarantees their contracts, unlike the NFL, which allows for teams to essentially get rid of players at their whim. MLB also differs from the NBA in that its draft is huuuuuuuuuuuge – more than 1,000 players are drafted each year while the NBA’s draft has two round and less than 70 picks.
Similarly, however, an estimated 1.2% of NCAA men’s basketball players get drafted to the NBA while about .003% of high school varsity players will eventually play professionally. For the NBA, a system with options declaring right out of high school or after 3 years of college solves ANOTHER problem- the minor leagues! Seeing a kid or 2 or 3 years in college as they refine their game is a helluva lot better than a one and done going to the NBDL and vanishing from the face of the Earth!
Every professional sport will have players who attempt to make it big before their minds or bodies are ready (Freddy Adu, Ryan Leaf, Demarcus Cousins it would seem), but as of right now the NBA is failing its pool of young talent and therefore its fanbase with regard to its handling of development of players.
Baseball’s system allows for the proper maturing of talent – whether it be mentally or physically. Sure, there will always be freaks like Bryce Harper or Dave Winfield, but the majority of athletes in ALL sports need time to season their brains to the professional level. Listen to a veteran talking about a rookie sometime – in any sport – they never talk about the things we drool over before drafts, verticals and bench press and Wonderlics; they talk about mental preparation. If the NBA adopted the MLB policy, certainly there will still be bozos like DeMarcus Cousins who bolt before they are ready but the point is teams would then have the knowledge that a more refined, if slightly less naturally athletically gifted, player can have a positive impact quicker and more efficiently than those who failed to transition properly.