This time of year really makes me appreciate college basketball. Granted, the NBA players that are still playing are actually trying this time of year, which is nice, but I'm just not fond of the NBA game.
I got into a discussion with a friend a few weeks back about the quality of basketball that's played in the league. He thought the pro game was superior, I disagreed. I understand that the athletes in the NBA are amazing and don't doubt that for a second. But the lack of enforcement of traveling, the heavy focus on isolation and individual play, the fact that's is as much of a contact game as football at times all make it seem like a mere cousin of Naismith's original intent...not the same game. Plus, I like the fact that each game means something in college.
As J Money knows, I think baseball, basketball and hockey would all benefit greatly from contraction- not only the number of games, but the number of teams...but I might be the wrong guy to give advice as I don't think any of these three sports produce a product that worth consistently watching. That said, I'll still give it.
These problems aren't what I'm here to address. I want to look at the current rule that no player right out of high school can go straight to the pros (unless he wants to play in Lexington, of course).
In case you don't know it already, I'm an idealist, when it comes to Purdue athletes. I like to focus on the most-positive side of things- it makes it easier to really get behind the kids and the team. Granted, I'm not naive enough to believe there aren't problems behind closed doors for Matty and Co. But, this program has done a very good job at a couple of things- First, the players seem to be good kids are are likable...that's pretty simple, and I think it comes down to the type of player Painter likes to pursue. But secondly, the team is filled with true student athletes.
Look no further than the best top-to-bottom recruiting class Purdue has seen in the past 20 years. Hummel, Moore and Johnson all were great on the court and all have excelled in the classroom. When I talk to the players, I always let them know how much I respect that- I could barely keep a 3.0 GPA and I was just a student. I know these guys have a lot of tools at their disposal that I didn't, but it seems they're still working hard...that's heartening...and it's not the case everywhere.
Despite Painter's ability to win 25+ games with great consistency and stay in the top-25 for most of his time at Purdue, he still hasn't attracted a one...or two-and-done type of player. Some would argue that might be the reason Purdue hasn't been in the Final Four since I was five, but I don't know if that's the only reason. Painter's recruits buy in to what he's selling...and it's not glamorous...that's probably why the players in the program work out so well.
Programs like Kentucky, UNC, Kansas, Texas, Florida and others, find themselves with players who are just passing through nearly year-in and year-out. These kids get tremendous exposure, fast-paced systems to play in, and the precedent shows that if their game is geared for the NBA, they'll be in good position in a matter of months, not years, to be millionaires.
But the NBA's rules leave us with some players that think going to class for another day, let-alone another year, is just too much to bear. So the players scrape by for a semester as students in title only, and that's really all that's needed to get them through their sole collegiate season before heading to the draft. To me, that's a joke and makes the idea that academics in college basketball a farce. But, I don't fault the kids as much as I do the system and schools that allow it, and I'd prefer that the kids wouldn't have to go through the charade of pretending to be students for a few months. So what should be done?
I like the premise of making the kids play at a higher level before they get huge contracts- it's helped the NBA avoid a bust or two, there's no doubt about that. But, the current rule doesn't help the college game too much...and a successful NCAA career doesn't equate to one at the next level.
So my idea is this: Every player that plays in the NBA must turn 20 by December 1 of his rookie season...but, they are allowed to be drafted by a team out of high school in the US or abroad, if they declare themselves eligible. The catch is this: Until they're old enough, they play in the NBADL. They can still get large, guaranteed signing bonuses, like in MLB, but their salaries would be capped while playing in the feeder league at under $200K/year (a significant pay bump for most college athletes outside of Columbus)...once they enter the NBA, their salary would graduate significantly once the team with their rights activates them.
I think this system would help the struggling NBADL gain traction with the fans, it would help college basketball by all-but-eliminating players who aren't cut out for school while making programs, not just teams, stronger. Plus, it avoids the discussion that any rule denies a kid a chance to make a living and in turn, help his family situation.
The other, much more simple and logical option of course, is to re-instate the ability to draft kids right out of high school...but from what I hear the NBA really likes the built-in buffer before kids step on an NBA court...so that idea probably won't be going away soon.
Regardless of the draft eligibility rule, Purdue probably won't be affected directly.