Reviving freshman ineligibility is as illogical as it is unlikely

Reviving freshman ineligibility is as illogical as it is unlikely

At the end of his lone season at Duke last spring, Jabari Parker reflected on his college experience in a long essay published by Sports Illustrated.

The NBA-bound forward admitted he'd grown "pretty attached to college life," expressed gratitude to those at the school who helped him mature and insisted his days as a Duke student were not over even though he was declaring for the draft.

"I intend to graduate from Duke while I'm in the NBA," Parker wrote. "I was an honor student when I arrived at Duke, and I'd like to graduate as one.

Parker's experience reflects how beneficial even one year of exposure to university life can be for top prospects, which is why it's baffling that college administrators seem to be working so hard to invent ways to keep elite players like him out of college basketball. Several prominent conference commissioners have gone so far as to suggest making freshmen ineligible for competition the way they were prior to 1972, a radical idea that would force one-and-done-caliber prospects to either take a year off from their sport to attend college or consider other options to prepare themselves for the NBA.

The concept is a product of many college administrators dissatisfaction that the NBA and its player's union have been unwilling to alter the league's rule forbidding prospects from entering the draft until at least one year after they graduate high school. The outcome of the so-called one-and-done rule is that some of the nation's premier basketball prospects spend a year in college before turning pro more out of necessity than the desire for an education.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told last week there is "uniform acknowledgment that there’s kids in college that don’t have any interest in an education." Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in the same story that freshman ineligibility "would do a lot to restore credibility and integrity to college basketball." And on Thursday, Maryland's student newspaper reported that the Big Ten intends to propose a national discussion of the merits of freshman ineligibility.

While many early-entry NBA draft picks certainly have no intention of reenrolling in classes the way Parker says he will, their academic indifference hardly makes them outliers among their peers. How many college kids who don't play sports are more interested in frat parties than final exams when they arrive on campus? Should we ban freshmen from pledging fraternities, joining politically minded clubs or writing for the campus newspaper too?

Secondly, while there is no doubt some kids would benefit from just focusing on academics as freshmen, there are numerous others who can successfully juggle their sport too. Why deny them a chance to play, especially when it will cost schools more money to pay for their scholarships and expenses for an extra year?

Lastly, suggesting that the one-and-done rule has been bad for basketball requires ignoring a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

The presence of Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins or Jahlil Okafor in college basketball only entices more viewers to watch games, which means increased ticket and TV revenue for the schools. The NBA also benefits those prospects playing a year in college instead of overseas or in the D-League because it provides far more TV exposure. In other words, there's a reason Jahlil Okafor is a household name after four months at Duke but fellow future top-five pick Emmanuel Mudiay is still largely unknown among casual fans after choosing to skip college and play in China.

Exposure to college also is a good thing for most elite prospects themselves. They get high-level coaching and training, time to spend around peers from outside their usual social circle and the chance to begin working toward a degree in case basketball doesn't work out. Some may indeed leave after a year or two to pursue their basketball ambitions, but others may realize they're not as good as they thought they were and opt to hang around.

You can argue that high-level basketball prospects can still have all that even if freshmen are ineligible to play, but realistically how many would want to delay their NBA ambitions an extra year? Many players would play in the D-League or overseas after high school instead of sitting out a year in college for the chance to play as sophomores.

What's especially laughable about college administrators backing the idea of freshman ineligibility is how hypocritical it is.

If the Big Ten commissioner is so worried about student-athletes graduating, why did he expand his league's footprint in the recent wave of conference realignment by adding Maryland and Rutgers? That may have brought more TV revenue, but it also made travel demands on Big Ten teams tougher by increasing the distances they must go to games.

If the Pac-12 commissioner is so worried about student-athletes graduating, how come the league now accommodates ESPN and Fox by playing basketball games on Wednesday and Sunday nights? The league's former Thursday-Saturday schedule may not have allowed for as much TV exposure but it also forced athletes to miss less class.

The answer, of course, is simple. Major college sports are a business and revenue comes first. The idea of the Big Ten or the Pac-12 telling TV executives that it will only play on Fridays and Saturdays the way the Ivy League does is about as realistic as the idea of freshman ineligibility coming to fruition.

It isn't practical. It isn't fair. And perhaps most importantly in the modern era of college sports, it isn't profitable.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!