The National Basketball Association is getting closer to removing its “one-and-done” rule which insists players enter a year of college basketball – but the debate roars on.

By Quinn Sloan

As the 2020 NBA draft inches closer and closer, players in the draft class are finding ways of circumventing the “College before Pro” rule.

Before the 2006 draft, the late commissioner David Stern implemented a rule referred to as the “one-and-done rule.” This rule upped the minimum age for rookies to 19 years of age. The exception to the rule is if you are one year removed from high school graduation.

Superstars such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are big names that stick out who never went to college. Both players entered the draft right out of high school. This rule made it mandatory that players who would follow must wait a year after high school graduation before they were eligible to play NBA basketball.

Players exploring alternative routes

Over the past 12 years, the great majority of American basketball players would enter the ranks of the NCAA. This led to recruitment periods and high-intensity college seasons. Scouts would follow along intently. However, players would play “one-and-done” basketball in college. This meant that following their one mandatory NCAA season, players would enter the draft.

There has been a rise recently for players to forego college on their way to the NBA. Americans would take their talents to other countries, playing in professional leagues across the globe. Other players would simply elect to independently train during the year.

In the upcoming 2020 NBA draft, upwards of three players are projected to be taken in the first 14 picks who elected to bypass the NCAA.

This growing trend is a response to the 2006 changes to NBA draft eligibility. Players are questioning why they should subject their bodies to a grueling college season. This year at college would not include pay; instead, they could train for the big leagues.

An interesting debate has emerged: Is college before the pros necessary?

Proponents say college basketball is necessary

Making this debate all the more timely, commissioner Adam Silver has disclosed that the NBA is getting close to lowering the minimum draft age, eliminating its one-and-done rule.

Those in favor of making players wait a year before entering the league talk about the benefits of college for the players. College is a time to mature, both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, players can get a taste of what it is like to be on their own and to make wise decisions outside of the wings of their guardian. 

Physically, college basketball is far more intense than any type of training any of these players ever experienced in high school. The competition is far greater, as is the training regimen. College makes for a nice middle-ground for players, a way to ease in to high-level basketball, and the training that comes with it

Moreover, team executives can benefit from requiring players to play for a year in college. “The younger a player is, the harder he is to evaluate,” notes NBA scouting analyst Kevin O’Connor. The college game necessitates high-level competition. A high-schooler may never play against future NBA talent. A good high school basketball team could dominate their schedule, never even playing against future college basketball stars. Requiring players to play a year in college will ensure higher competition level at which scouts can evaluate players more accurately.

Advocates for removing the one-and-done rule point to the need for greater development programs in the NBA. Further enhancement of the G League, the official NBA minor league, can ease the transition for some players.

The Opposition Speaks Out

Proponents of the removal of the rule are quick to argue that it may not do as much for the development of young men as it may advocate. Free-agent power forward Demarcus Cousins told reporters, “I don’t understand the point of [the one-and-done rule]. What’s the difference between 18 and 19 and 17 and 18? You’re immature, you’re young, you’re ignorant to life in general. So what’s really the difference? You’ve still got a lot of growing to do as a man.”

Requiring players to play a year in college only hurts their future, rule opponents claim. Some of these players are already projected to go pro in one year. That is a year in which they cannot earn money to provide for their families. Also, it is a year in which they must put their bodies on the line without a paycheck.

Removal of the rule does not mean that the NBA draft will only consist of high schoolers. From 1974 (when the first high schooler was drafted to play professional basketball) to 2006 (when the one-and-done rule was instated), only 43 players were drafted out of high school. Plenty of players will play in college before feeling ready to enter the draft.

Some claim what eliminating the rule will do is ensure that the NBA improves its developmental system. Players can join the league with better options for training and minor leagues to prepare, while still getting paid.

While the NBA mulls over the removal of the one-and-done rule, proponents of the rule can rest assured that it will also equip its players well for success.