The University of North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball National championship in school history when it beat Gonzaga University 71-65, earlier this month. This achievement will stand in record books but the game itself will not be remembered in a few years as it lacked the excitement and suspense of previous championship games.
One aspect of the game that was quite refreshing, however, was the legitimate student-athletes that made up the rosters of both teams. UNC and Gonzaga only had two likely first-round draft picks combined, a big change from previous games. Without any highly ranked recruits, the game still featured basketball at a high level, without requiring the talents of “one-and-done” players.
The concept of a one-and-done player arose when the National Basketball Association imposed a rule in 2006 requiring all draft-eligible players to be 19 years old and one-year removed from their high school graduations before heading to the NBA, causing the great majority of the country’s top high school recruits to flock to colleges for a single basketball season in order to meet the requirement.
The nation’s top high school talent such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant were drafted straight out of high school prior to 2006. The implementation of the rule may seem like a positive addition that requires NBA players to further their education, but the motivation behind the rule change did not have the education of the nation’s best basketball players at heart.
Showing up to the easiest collegiate courses only to drop out once your team is eliminated from the NCAA March Madness tournament does not make NBA players smarter — it removes the qualities of college basketball that are cherished.
The allure of college basketball is that country’s top student-athletes compete on the court while pursuing other interests. This does not mean that collegiate stars should stop going to the NBA, but they should have to choose whether they are athletes or student-athletes.
The National Football League requires players to complete their junior season in order to be eligible for the draft, yet the NBA and NCAA stick to their one year rule so that they can increase their revenue.
When UCLA and Kentucky squared off in the Sweet 16 there were six one-and-done players on the rosters. The game gained attention because the next generation of NBA stars were on the floor.
Ticket sales and television viewing was up for the NCAA, and suspense around the NBA draft grew as well.
UCLA lost and within 20 minutes its star player declared for the NBA draft. Within four days, its second best player followed suit. Following its loss in the Elite Eight, Kentucky’s stars declared as well.
It’s time the NCAA remembers that its job is to provide athletics opportunities to students who are talented enough to compete, not generate athletes for professional leagues while lining their pockets with sponsorship money.