When NBA commissioner David Stern required basketball players to be at least 19-years-old before joining the league, author Buzz Bissinger was supportive, as were many sportswriters and college basketball fans. But with the pro basketball season set to kick off tonight, Bissinger has switched teams
. Three years after the rule was imposed, he says in a New York Times op-ed that "raising the minimum age to 19 hasn't helped the players in any way." Athletes avoid going to classes, rendering the notion of student-athletes "a farce."
How could this be fixed?
Pay student athletes, says Bissinger.
If David Stern truly cared about his players' well-being, he would advocate that all the silliness over the sanctity of the college academic experience stop and that N.B.A.-bound players get some share of the millions of dollars they generate: in the greatest capitalistic society in the history of the world, this may be the greatest inequity.
But an equally strong basketball fan remakes the case for age limits. Henry Abbott
at ESPN's TrueHoop blog argues that as soon as you you pay college players, "it quickly becomes so obvious that this is not an academic operation. Instead, it's a large-scale professional entertainment industry....If you have professional athletes on campus (who may or may not even be getting an education), somebody's going to clamor for a team made up of, you know, students. Keeping players unpaid is a crucial part of making them appear like undergrads." Instead, Abbott says it's time to fix the college basketball system:
If we're going to continue to make the case that future NBA players need to learn and mature on campus (as opposed to sell tickets and drive NCAA TV ratings) then let's...adjust their schedules to encourage real personal development." Citing former UNC Coach Dean Smith's idea to make freshman athletes "play only meaningless games, without travel" he says the effect on the athlete would be real, giving them "plenty of time to adjust to life away from home and the challenges of academia. They wouldn't make anyone any money, but they'd maximize their maturation."
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