If you want to play in the National Basketball Association, then you must be one year removed from high school. In 2020, there is no workaround to the aforesaid requirement, which is referred to as the one-and-done rule. However, nowhere in the one-and-done rule does it require that athletes spend that one year between high school and the NBA at an institution of higher education. It simply has become the traditional route that a prominent athlete will take as he waits his ultimate payday.
Yet, the system that developed, and made it standard for athletes to spend at least one year in college, seems to be crumbling.
In mid-April, potential 2021 top pick Jalen Green announced his decision to play for a year in the NBA’s developmental league — the G League — instead of going to school. His earning potential will be capped at under seven figures, but at least he will be able to earn a living based on his on-court talents. The NCAA would not even allow Green to earn compensation off the court, through the exploitation of his name, image, and likeness, had he decided to enroll at a university. That could be changing, but it remains the official stance of the NCAA while states like California and Florida add pressure on the Association by passing legislation that circumvents the relevant NCAA bylaw.
Green’s decision was quickly followed by Isaiah Todd’s statement that he would also forego playing college basketball in favor of earning a salary in the G League. Todd, another highly touted basketball player, had planned to attend Michigan, but is instead opting for a position that will pay him up to $500,000.
Two of the most prominent basketball athletes have spurned the idea of one-and-done meaning that they must spend a year at an academic institution where they are prohibited from earning any compensation, whether it be in the form of a salary or related to off-court opportunities. Their bold stances are expected to lead to many other top prospects deciding that it makes more sense to start earning money now as opposed to enrolling in an academic institution only to be mainly focused on their future professional careers, picking up and leaving campus after a mere year of jumping through the hoops.
The opportunity to attend a university or take classes away from a college campus will always be there for these individuals who often come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and desperately wish to do whatever they can, as soon as possible, to start earning money for themselves and their families. They are not missing out on receiving their education nor the college experience; realistically, their one year at academic institutions would have revolved around the athletic departments trying to extrapolate any value that they could receive from these prized individuals, with little care for the educational value received by the players during that one year on campus.
It makes one wonder why there should be a one-and-done rule at all. Why not allow individuals who graduate from high school go directly to the NBA without passing through the G League, going overseas to play for a foreign team as RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball did or attend a university for one year?
The theory behind the one-and-done rule is that an 18-year-old, with no college experience, is not mature enough to be a professional basketball player in the NBA. However, with more players deciding to play professional basketball, whether it be in the G League or elsewhere, that theory is being laid to rest. Even setting aside the fact that more players will follow in the footsteps of Green and Todd, the system is broken, as recognized by an independent Commission on College Basketball formed by the NCAA and led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. An article on the NCAA’s own website admits as much.
“Elite high school players with NBA prospects and no interest in a college degree should not be ‘forced’ to attend college, often for less than a year,” stated the Commission on College Basketball in a report on the subject.
Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, recognizes a need for change as does NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said in 2019 that the one-and-done rule is no longer good policy, but added that a change is probably a few years away.
“I think the general feeling is that some of the challenges that come with the current one-and-done rule … together with the reality that, academically, those prospects are only attending school and making progress toward their degree for one year, is not consistent with everything else college athletics is about,” Gavitt said. “I think the feeling is, it’s just time for that progression to happen.”
Unfortunately for Green, Todd, and any other basketball players who follow in their footsteps, any change to the one-and-done rule did not come fast enough for them to take advantage of it and go straight to the NBA. However, their decisions should carry weight in speeding up the change described by Silver, which seems to be coming but not as quickly as prospects like Green and Todd would have liked.
Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @DarrenHeitner.