If there's one thing college basketball fans probably don't want to hear -- besides the words "blowout" and "Gus Johnson" in the same clause -- it's that government is going to start getting prominently involved in the way the NCAA governs sport. We've seen how that's gone with baseball and the BCS. No thank you. But if things keep up this way, it's probably only a matter of time before a rep from the Myles Brand's Indianapolis office finds himself face to face with the bright lights of a congressional hearing, "The Aviator"-style.
You see, Rep. Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, wrote a letter to the NBA saying the age limit was "of deep concern." Ooh. Ominous. (It should be noted that the NBA is of course the league responsible for the rule, which has been a qualified success for David Stern and kind of a disaster in every other regard. The NCAA merely went cheerily along.) Cohen told the New York Times that his office is looking into the constitutionality of the rule, and is hoping to get it repealed before Stern extends it to age 20. Cohen is a little bit clumsy in making his case -- he calls the system a "vestige of slavery" and notes that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the rule, both of which are true, but both of which are probably slightly exaggerated rhetoric -- but he's right. He is right:
Cohen said that one of his primary arguments against the rule, which is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and union, was that soldiers can fight for their country at age 18 but not play in the N.B.A. He also said noted that predominantly white sports like hockey, baseball and golf lack similar restrictions.
“There’s something wrong with keeping kids, who are more likely to be African-American than not, from playing professional basketball and football when they can help their families and communities immediately,” Cohen said. “They’re forced to go to school when they have no desire or interest in going to school.”
Again with the African-American thing. Again, he's right, but the age limit would be wrong even if every NBA first-rounder was a rich white kid from Connecticut, as I assume all white kids from Connecticut are. (I've never been to Connecticut.) From a purely argumentative standpoint, this feels like a distraction.
Anyway, Cohen has a vested interest beyond the obvious political publicity that comes with taking on a sports issue in this manner: Memphis is in his district. Cohen blames the system for the alleged fraud and recruiting violations at the school the past few years. Which makes him like most Memphis fans, who, like Cohen, are also basically right.
The age limit rule provides a huge incentive, and very little deterrent, for players to cheat their way into school, or to accept money, or to do any number of things that could hurt their schools later but won't affect them. This is what one-and-done hath wrought. As much as the selfish college hoops fan in me wants to keep seeing that elite NBA talent in college, it's wrong. And if fixing it takes a little grandstanding from the few people in D.C. not railing against baseball or the BCS, so be it.