Big business (cont.)
Posted: Monday April 7, 2008 11:04PM; Updated: Wednesday April 9, 2008 2:45PM
The record, though, shows that most of the players who have entered the NBA after a year or less of college have done just fine. Of those who haven't, they frequently have themselves to blame; the warning signs from scouts, from coaches and in the media about how low a player might be drafted almost always are there. (Here is a simple primer: If you're not a certain first-rounder, stay in school. If you're a certain lottery pick, come out immediately.)
Paul Hewitt, the Georgia Tech basketball coach who was part of the news conference Monday with Brand and Stern, focused on the ones who guess wrong. "You see kids 10 years, 15 years down the road,'' Hewitt said. "They say, 'If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.' ''
To which we say: Welcome to life. High school kids who grab a job at the factory to pay for a set of wheels, college sophomores who get their girlfriends pregnant, English lit majors who suddenly realize their career options are limited all learn stuff by doing, too. Doing right and doing wrong. So do athletes in sports such as baseball, hockey, golf and tennis, where age barriers don't seem to matter.
Had Jonathan Bender, the No. 5 pick in the 1999 draft, been required to go to college for one, two or three years, the chronic knee problems that eventually limited him to 271 NBA games before his reluctant retirement might have occurred on his dime rather than the Indiana Pacers' and their insurance company's. That could have lightened the 7-foot Bender's wallet by nearly $30 million. Now Bender can attend whatever school will have him and pursue as many degrees as he wants for as long as he'd like.
Or consider Portland center Greg Oden, whose rookie season was wiped out by microfracture knee surgery. Had Oden, who turned 20 in January, been forced to stay at Ohio State, he would be out the $4.6 million the Trail Blazers are paying him, along with the $10 million or $20 million (or whatever) he has locked up in endorsement deals and assorted outside income. Moreover, he likely would have had to return to Columbus for a third year just to prove that he had recovered.
It doesn't have to be all about the money, either, except that the NCAA makes it so. Why can't schools accommodate these players in a reverse scenario? If they truly are so worried about the kids' education, what's the harm in letting them take their chances in the pros and then, if they wash out, allow them to enroll with whatever remains of their varsity eligibility. The sanctity of "amateur'' athletics? Please. The Olympics already has changed that forever. Kids take time before college for all sorts of reasons -- a trek through Europe, a tour in Iraq, a year or two working to save for tuition. Why not give the athletes that same chance?
The problem is that the NBA, which is supposed to be in the basketball business, has been in the image business lately. And the NCAA, which is supposed to be in the academics business, is still too much in the basketball business.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005. His new book, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins, can be ordered here.
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