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Ken Medlin

A tale of two draft strategies

Posted April 9, 2011

Each year around this time, I'm reminded of how Major League Baseball gets it right in one key area - draft eligibility.

While there have been exceptions, baseball's system essentially boils down to two options: 1) Go pro straight out of high school, or 2) Wait until your junior season in college has been completed.

The NBA could learn a lot from this model. If nothing else, we could avoid the yearly "should he stay or should he go" questions for college basketball's best.

Admittedly, few baseball prospects are "Majors-ready" coming out of high school in the way their basketball-playing counterparts have been. But the money and opportunities are certainly there for the top prospects. The only barrier to entry for a high school baseball player is the lack of interest from pro baseball teams. If they're interested, you can sign and pursue a career.

For those players that choose the college option, they're eligible for the draft three years later. It's a clean and neat solution that virtually guarantees a steady stream of talent going into pro baseball, but it also provides stability for college programs. Once a player arrives on campus, he's there for three seasons at least.

Why not investigate a similar system for basketball? Lately, we've heard a lot of talk about the NBA tweaking its draft rules to prevent players from leaving college after only one season. This "two-and-done" system would essentially keep elite players in college through their sophomore seasons.

For the NBA, this is a win-win scenario. Teams would get an extra two years of scouting -- plus free development from the elite players, thus minimizing the risk of draft-day mistakes. Plus, the top players would enter the league pre-marketed. Imagine how little we would have known about Kevin Durant had he not played his one season at Texas. He came in to the NBA as a household name.

My one issue with this system is a philosophical one. I'm bothered a bit by the idea that elite players would essentially be barred from working (for gazillions of dollars in the NBA) for two years. I do think that if your skills are in demand, you should have the right to market yourself. That's where baseball has it right. MLB gives high school stars the option of going pro. It's their choice.

But that's not likely to happen with the NBA, and frankly I doubt baseball would be as eager to sign high school players if their skill levels warranted promotions straight to the big leagues. It's less of a risk to draft a 20-year-old than an 18-year-old, if for no other reason than you've had two extra years to observe and scout them.

In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if the 2-year-rule becomes reality. And as someone who follows the college game a lot more closely than the pros i say bring it on -- even with the misgivings.

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  • scousler Apr 12, 2011

    I think it's long overdue for the NBA and the NCAA to institute a similar policy that MLB uses.
    The NBA now has a very strong development league to nurture those high school athletes who may not be quite ready for primetime in the senior league, yet still possess marketable skills that make them a draft target. The major NCAA schools are really having a hard time retaining quality recruits past their breakout year and yet recruiting them has not gotten any easier. The choice between going to the NBA out of high school and the option to play college ball for a minimum of 2-3 years is a fair one. Using the univ/NCAA to build your NBA marketability for just one year is not fair to the schools at all.

  • Ken D. Apr 9, 2011

    Did you really post this story at 4AM? There are things you can take for that.

    I pretty much agree with you, and I doubt that the NBA will work cooperatively with the NCAA to help provide stability to the college game, even though I think the NBA would benefit as much as the schools do, if not more.

    I've wondered whether there is something the NCAA could do on its own to improve their position. For example, would it be possible, from a legal standpoint, for schools to enter into a binding contract with recruits that requires them to stay in school for two or three years instead of one? Perhaps a provision could be made to allow the recruit to buy his way out of the contract if he decides to go pro early (which would obviously minimize the incentive to do just that).

    Of course that requires a quid pro quo from the school, which would likewise have to commit to the student that his scholarship is for at least as long as he is required to stay in school (and academically eligible).

    The current system as it now stands hurts one party (the schools) and only marginally helps the other (the NBA). Surely we could do better through cooperation.

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