The past fews years in college basketball have been interesting albeit frustrating due to the off-court changes and developments that we fans believe changed the nature of the game for the worse.
In 2012, Kentucky won its eighth national championship using a cast of one-and-done freshmen including Anthony Davis (freshman, first overall draft pick), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (freshman, 2nd), Terrence Jones (sophomore, 18th), Marquis Teague (freshman, 29th), Doron Lamb (sophomore, 42nd) and Darius Miller (senior, 46th). This win crystallized the impact of the NBA one-and-done rule enacted in time for the 2006 draft.
Perhaps the panic was a bit unwarranted as Kentucky went on to lose in the first round of the NIT the very next year--even with another cast of highly touted potential one-and-dones led by Nerlens Noel. Although Kentucky made it to the finals of this year's March Madness, the road was rocky and very much in doubt until the SEC tournament. Even Duke and Kansas, with the likely first three picks in this years draft, didn't live up to expectation.
Still, even the experts believe the consternation is warranted. The grand master of the one-and-done system, John Calipari himself, sincere or not, advocates changing the rule to require players to be 20 (two-and-done) before they are allowed to enter the draft.
Are there changes afoot? Would the changes benefit UCLA?
The college basketball ecosystem is a complicated one. That said, I do believe any changes would benefit Bruin Basketball relative to the other blue bloods and near-blue bloods. Why? Schools like Kentucky and Arizona benefit most from the one-and-done rules and other exogenous factors affecting college basketball. Lower academic standards, one-dominant-sport environment, rabid fan base and small entertainment market all serve to give these institutions a recruiting advantage over UCLA with regards to the five stars. Take one-and-done away from Arizona, for example, and UCLA's natural advantages like setting and talent-laden backyard once again become, perhaps, the most important factors (leaving aside the issue of the AD and coach) in recruiting.
That's not to say that UCLA shouldn't and doesn't pursue the one-and-dones now. You have to! The Wisconsins, Butlers and others will come along, and they'll get into the Final Four from time to time. Depending on who you want to consider, you have to bo back to 1994 when Arkansas won it all, or Texas Western in 1966 before you see a school on the list that you didn't expect. Though we would have been happy with Wisconsin's season this time, I'm pretty sure we only care about championships-done the right way-here.
Here's a non-exhaustive list and discussion of the exogenous issues impacting the quality of the game:
In a broken college basketball system, there are two issues that are actually seeing movement. One is the NBA rule that requires players to be 19 before they can enter the draft. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver favors increasing that age to 20. Of course, such a change would have to be negotitated into the next collective bargaining agreement. There's incentive for both sides: while there may be a delay in entry of NBA-ready stars into the league, even most first round draft picks are ultimately bench fodder, and the league would prefer to delay the onset of their issues due to immaturity. Also, every job won by a rookie is a job lost by a vet.
Over the years, AAU basketball has evolved into an industry designed to enrich its leaders and a market place for stars, agents, shoe companies and internet scouts. While some would say that its allowed the best high players to compete against each other, the consensus is that the AAU has led to the deterioration in fundamental skills. As Bruins, we seen first hand, over the past two seasons, incoming players who never played defense or boxed out before. The enablers who run these programs cater to stars who play with an unwritten rule that they won't guard each other: if you outscore me fine, but I didn't really guard you. While the middle class of high school basketball is still solid, the upper class coveted by the major colleges has forced college programs to adopt a running style in order to court these players. This style might seem "fun to watch" to some fans, but it doesn't result in championships.
3) Prep Schools
Prime Prep, Findlay Prep and Huntington Prep are the most well-known examples of high schools that aren't really high schools. This is a story that is similar to the AAU, but it is not always so cut and dried. Certainly, collecting star players who seemingly are uninterested in academics sounds like a recipe for disaster-especially for UCLA. Ben Howland did recruit Allerik Freeman from Findlay Prep and Steve Alford recruited Josh Perkins-at Findlay Prep now (to be fair, Perkins decision to attend FP came just before he committed to Gonzaga), but it should be noted that Jordan Adams went to Oak Hill Academy, so obviously, the story isn't always bad. At their best, these schools offer a star player stuck in an uncompetitive league (most are) an opportunity to improve their situation on a full ride. The problem, of course, then becomes the other financial influences during said player's one or two year residence.
4) Cable TV and the Rise of College Football
If you haven't seen the documentary "Requiem for the Big East," I highly recommend you fire up video-on-demand right now, and you'll understand why I list this as having an adverse affect on college basketball. We're a football-loving country and that's a great thing. Nevertheless, college basketball programs have lost their influence within the their universities and the consequences have been conference realignment and poaching, an arms race for facilities and coaches, and ultimately changes in recruiting practices and playing style in an effort to win back or maintain status in the athletic department and amongst the schools's boosters.
5) The College Basketball Factories
On some level, you have to give John Calipari credit where credit is due. Same goes for Sean Miller at Arizona. However, in the long-run, other coaches have to play the same game to compete-its a vicious cyle.
6) The Student Athlete
If you have Netflix or Amazon Prime, you should see this documentary. It turns out that the term "student athlete" was invented by the NCAA specifically to avoid worker's compensation claims by college athletes. Why do I bring this up? Because the NCAA hasn't been an angel in the administration of college athletics and especially in the enforcement of the recruiting rules in college football and basketball. Perhaps more importantly, we are now in a period where the old rules are being challenged. The pendulum might have swung too far away from the athletes themselves. The two most visible examples: The Ed O'Bannon law suit and the recent decision by the NLRB to allow the Northwestern football players to unionize. This is the other item I was referring to above that might see movement.
Here's my prescription. While I'd welcome incremental change such as changing the draft-eligible age from 19 to 20, personally, I'd rather let anyone who graduates from high school enter the draft - its a free country. There will be fewer five star plus basketball players in college, but in the long run, the players who want to actually be there will stay longer. This is one instance where I'd let the free market work.
I like the baseball model, but college basketball is different from college baseball - which has the three year rule, in that there is an extensive minor leage in place for professional baseball. It is also different than college football in that physical maturity is essential even for a rookie in professional football.
Further, I'd increase aid to athletes. I don't advocate paying salaries, but after you let everyone who wants to turn pro give it a go, I would increase living expenses, provide adequate long-term health care and pay for player's future earnings insurance. These changes, in time, might actually reduce the need for the work-arounds that always pop-up when money corrupts, like AAU basketball.
Tell me what you think? Let's get the debate going.