If you saw the NCAA Tournament this year and admired Memphis' attack-dog approach the jumping, driving, running and gunning you probably asked yourself: What's that game they're playing?
Then you remembered: It's entertaining college basketball.
There isn't much of that around any more.
That's why Memphis was so popular. The Tigers reminded fans what it was like when the game was fun. Overall, college basketball today is as boring as Vanilla Wafers. One big reason is that the best, most athletic teen players aren't in college. In most cases they turn pro as quickly as possible.
The NBA tried to stem the tide in 2006, when it mandated players couldn't be drafted until age 19, or one year out of high school. So it's a one-and-done proposition. They barely get time to find the bookstore, much less build a foundation. Former Texas Tech coach Bob Knight pointed out that one-year college players don't even need to attend class the second semester of their freshman year.
Now NBA commissioner David Stern and NCAA president Myles Brand are hoping to raise the minimum age to 20, which means most players would have to stay in college two years. This would help the NBA because players would become better-known before turning pro, and thus be easier to market. It also would give players some time to grow up.
Meanwhile, colleges would benefit by keeping players at least two years, rather than seeing them leave after one or as was the case in the past skip college entirely.
Conventional wisdom used to be that high school players weren't ready to enter the NBA. But after Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, LeBron James and others kicked down that barrier, the argument seemed silly.
The big plus for college basketball fans is that if the two-year proposal happens, there will be more good players at that level, and they'll be there longer. As it currently exists, if you're not watching Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA or a few of their cohorts, the college game is made up largely of those who aren't good enough to leave school early.
The new plan would make both games better. The pros would get more finished players and the colleges would get a better product for longer.
Too bad none of this is likely to happen.
First, the proposal has to be approved by the NBA Players Association, which only reluctantly agreed to allow the minimum age to rise to 19. It's not going to give up more ground, especially since the current collective bargaining agreement doesn't end until 2011.
A second problem is that if Stern's proposal did pass, top players that didn't want to attend college might decide to play in Europe. The money is good, the competition vastly better than two decades ago, and there's no need to pass freshman English or chemistry.
Then there is the issue of legalities. Somewhere along the line, the courts are bound to conclude it is discriminatory to keep a 19-year-old out of pro basketball. If a player is of legal age to work, and can perform the requirements for the job (heaven knows James could do that) how do they say he's not welcome?
That's blatant age discrimination.
Still, I'd like to see the two-year proposal pass anyway, because I'm tired of seeing college basketball players who can't play. It's disheartening to conclude that even conference players-of-the-year in leagues like the Mountain West probably won't survive in the Show. (Only one MWC player of the year since 2000 remains in the NBA.) There simply aren't enough great players to go around the college ranks.
Making teenagers wait to join the NBA isn't going to guarantee they'll get their degrees. And it certainly doesn't mean they will always be better players than if they'd left. But anything that makes college basketball more watchable, and the competition better, is great with me.If I want to be bored, I'll watch home shopping on cable.
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