The best application of the phrase "lesser of two evils," in my world at least, will always apply to the NBA being slightly less dubious than the NCAA. If there ever were an organization more skeevy, more duplicitous, more conniving and self-serving and careless and self-absorbed and cynical than the NBA, it's the NCAA. By a hair. This hair is likely sponsored by something.
NBA commissioner David Stern pointed this out on Tuesday. He was smarmy, he was passive/aggressive, and he was as self-serving as ever. But he was absolutely and utterly on point when he pointed out that he and his league of owners bent on making a profit above all else are under absolutely no obligation to aid in NCAA basketball's aesthetics by denying players that NBA GMs rank as job-worthy a chance to play NBA ball before they finish their second year of "college." Better to let Kyrie Irving look amazing and win games for Cleveland, than for free under some antiquated notion of "guidance" at Duke. From Brett Pollakoff at Pro Basketball Talk:
"A college could always not have players who are one and done," Stern said. "They could do that. They could actually require the players to go to classes.
"Or they could get the players to agree that they stay in school, and ask for their scholarship money back if they didn't fulfill their promises. There's all kinds of things that, if a bunch of people got together and really wanted to do it, instead of talk about it …"
Brett pointed out that as Stern said this, in a press conference held before a Phoenix Suns/San Antonio Spurs game on Tuesday, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver visibly grimaced as the NBA's el jefe went off script a bit. Silver will likely inherit Stern's gig in a few years; but instead of playing nice, Silver should be taking notes. Because if the NBA is a joke, then the NCAA is a perpetual laughing stock.
The organization rakes in billions each year off of the work of players that are only compensated by the soulless concept of a "scholarship" that the NCAA barely bothers to attend to while the players breeze through classes. As basketball players grow smarter with increased competition and more televised basketball influence at an early age, these early developers need the NCAA less and less as the game develops, so the organization has to find new and innovative ways to squeeze more money out of these players before they head off to the NBA. Want to know why the NCAA still has a possession arrow? It's just another chance for a TV timeout, so that Harrison Barnes can indirectly team with Peter Frampton to influence you to buy some Buicks.
And the NCAA stands aside while pundits and fans of college basketball complain -- absolutely deserved complaints, mind you -- that the should-be fantastic sport of college basketball is hurt by its top talents only stopping in to play college hoops for a year before going to the NBA; even if those one-and-done players aren't exactly top-three material in each June's NBA draft. The NBA barred its teams from drafting high school players in 2005 partially in response to these complaints, but also mainly because their GMs couldn't be bothered to get it right while drafting Antoine Wright 20 spots ahead of high schooler Monta Ellis because, "I dunno, his knees are shot or something."
It's true that the NCAA product is diminished because players aren't sticking around, even if they're hoping to land a spot in the low 20s of the NBA draft. And the NBA is the reason why. But "is the reason why" is not the same as "to be blamed, and eventually shamed."
The NBA is under no obligation to ensure that Daniel Orton develops for free for a few years at Kentucky. NBA squads still love the fact that NCAA teams will do their work with the 18-to-22-year-olds for them, but they'd also rather take a chance on a potential star for the price of a cheap rookie contract, and let that kid work on his game behind the scenes even if it means paying them for very little in-game experience. And even if that guy merely turns into the answer you give your dad when he asks you, "who drafted that guy from …," the payoff for these teams is worth it. Some become Daniel Orton after one year at school, but some become Wilson Chandler after two.
Pollakoff goes on to quote Stern at his absolute coldest, on record at least:
"I agree with the NCAA that it would be great for us — I'm not concerned about NCAA, and our rules are not social programs," Stern said. "We don't think it's appropriate for us to lecture kids as to whether they should or shouldn't go to school. For our business purposes, the longer we can get to look at young men playing against first-rate competition, that's a good thing. Because draft picks are very valuable things."
Let's make no mistake, the NCAA's rules aren't social programs either. They're a business just as cold and calculating as the unapologetic NBA, with increased evidence that they care less and less about upholding the rules they put in place under the auspices of acting as a social, or educational program. And, frankly, I don't care about that. Let them continue to connive, because it's of no concern to me that some small forward doesn't go to classes, or recreationally uses things that most 20-year-olds use while not going to those classes.
This isn't to suggest that the NCAA should go on an NBA-styled bender, and turn their rule book into a free for all (no pun intended) of sorts. Or to suggest that NCAA basketball is soon to become an anachronism. Far from it. The quality of play may have fallen off a bit, but close contests will still draw our attention, the roots run deep, and it's always going to be fun to hem and haw over potential bracket seeding even before the conference tourneys start up. It's still great to wonder what that kid will be like when he becomes a man, even if he's gone by May.
Concurrently, this isn't to suggest that the NBA is to be lauded in any regard. This is a league that would put a headband with a Nike logo on Jerry West's famous silhouette, if they thought it would scan well. You know we're likely just a few years removed from "the Haier NBA Finals," while the league's owners cost thousands employment for months during a lockout that eventually barely shifted any meaningful cash around between the players and ownership.
They're just in this muck, together. The only difference is that the NBA, at least, is admitting as much.
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