College game would benefit by age limit restrictions
Kevin Garnett got the ball rolling. And players like Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neil, Korleone Young, Jonathon Bender, Rassard Lewis, Tracy McGrady, Kwame Brown, Darius Miles, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and many others continued the trend and have made the jump from high school to the NBA the reality of the basketball world since the mid 1990's.
But the days when the top high school basketball players bypass the college ranks altogether for the big payday in the NBA may be numbered.
Rumors have been swirling around NBA circles in recent weeks that the league and players union are close to an agreement to restrict players from entering the NBA until they reach the age of 20.
If agreed to the age restriction would not be enacted until the completion of the 2003-04 season, when the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NBA and players union is negotiated. If included in the next CBA, the restriction would likely take effect for the 2004 NBA Draft.
What's that mean?
It means that high school stars like Lenny Cooke and DeAngelo Collins won't have the option to jump from the high school ranks to the NBA until they reach the age of twenty. That likely means the quality and star power of college basketball will increase dramatically if the age limit restriction is implemented.
It also might send a strong signal to this years current crop of high school seniors that this might be the best time to enter the draft or risk being restricted by the age limit in the future.
And how would an age restriction affect James Lang, the 6'10, 310 center from Birmingham Central Park Christian?
Lang, a McDonald's All American, has been told by NBA scouts he's not ready for the league and has been advised his best option is to develop his game and improve his conditioning at the college level.
However, Lang is a border line academic qualifier and if he doesn't achieve the necessary scores for freshman eligibility it's a reasonable assumption that he'd then declare himself eligible for the 2003 NBA Draft despite strong advice not to make the jump from high school, in order to beat the age restrictions implementation.
Rest assured the age restriction would improve the quality of the college game immensely and would be welcomed by college administrators and coaches alike.
And the college coaches have a key ally in NBA Commissioner David Stern. He has been on record for more than two years as favoring an age limit restriction.
"Our position on the matter remains the same. We think it would be good for business and socially responsible," Stern said.
Deputy NBA Commissioner Russ Granik echoed Stern's belief.
"We still believe that it would be the best thing for the sport as a whole, and for the NBA," Granik said.
The NBA Players Association has been opposed to any restriction on age but union representatives have sent recent signals through the media they may be willing to make concessions on the age restriction in exchange for other benefits in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Stern and Billy Hunter, executive director of the players union will meet in April to begin negotiations on the next collective bargaining agreement.
Stern will enter the negotiations with the upper hand and it's believed he'll push strongly for an age restriction to be included in the deal. He also has very persuasive bargaining chips to dangle before Hunter in the negotiations. The current CBA is weighted heavily in favor of the league's owners and Stern could offer to soften the luxury tax and the league escrow fund, two items important to NBA players, in exchange for a new age limit restriction.
One prominent agent believes the deal to include an age restriction in the next collective bargaining agreement will be struck.
"Of all the concessions the union could make, it's probably the easiest for veterans to swallow because it will never affect them monetarily," said Mark Cornstein, a prominent sports agent.
Stern and Hunter have both stated publicly that no agreement has been reached at this point by the two sides.
College administrators and coaches favor the age restriction because it will increase the stability of it's programs and increase the college games overall star power and marketability. The NBA and its owners favor an age restriction because it eliminates the financial risk of drafting unseasoned teenage basketball prospects. That leaves only the NBA players union to agree to the deal and put the age limit in place.
So the remaining question to be answered is this. Will the players association agree to the age limit?
My guess is they will in exchange for a softening of the luxury tax and
changes to the leagues escrow fund and the trend of high school players entering
the NBA will cease after the 2003 NBA Draft.