The shamockery of “19 plus 1”

I cannot believe that it took Congressman Steve Cohen, of all people, to point out the obvious.

Cohen, clearly not a fan of the NBA’s current age restrictions on entry into the league, penned a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern (with copies to NBA Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter and NCAA President Myles Brand) asking the NBA to rescind its “19 plus 1” policy, which requires American players to be at least 19 years of age and one year removed from their high school graduating class.

The “obvious” fact that Cohen points out is that four of the biggest stars in this year’s NBA Finals (Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis) all skipped college to go directly to the pros prior to the institution of “19 plus 1”.  Add in this year’s MVP, LeBron James, and last year’s championship-winner, Kevin Garnett, and the NBA doesn’t have much of a case when it says that the new rule is working and that the age limit would be even more effective at 20.

Kobe Bryant, Lower Merion (PA) High School

Kobe Bryant, Lower Merion (PA) High School

Dwight Howard, SW Atlanta (GA) Christian Academy

Dwight Howard, SW Atlanta (GA) Christian Academy

The provision is part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players union which expires in 2011 and Cohen is considering hearings and legislation if Stern and Hunter don’t “just do the right thing” and abolish the clause in the next CBA.

As a general rule, I am almost always in favor of elected officials staying away from sports-related agendas.  In this case, however, Cohen clearly raises a few points that are in dire need of honest discussion. 

Not only has the age-limit rule wreaked havoc at places like USC and University of Memphis (in Cohen’s district), where OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose, respectively, have left behind major allegations of NCAA violations in their wake, but the “one and done” game makes a mockery of the concept of “student-athlete” and is simply not in line with the standards by which the other major sports regulate themselves.

It is going to be awfully difficult for anyone involved with the NBA to refute this argument from Cohen (in his interview with Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com):

“It’s a restrain of trade on these kids, and you see it in the NFL and NBA. You don’t see it in Major League Baseball. I was watching the [Memphis] Redbirds play … and I was looking at the field and there wasn’t an African-American player on the field when the Iowa Cubs played the Redbirds [in a Triple-A baseball game]. I didn’t see one on either team, and I thought, ‘This is a white sport. And tennis is a white sport. And golf is a white sport. And swimming is a white sport. And hockey is a white sport. And they don’t have these restrictions. But basketball and football are predominantly African-American sports, and that’s where they have the rule that forces players into college [instead of] going straight to the pros. Something here doesn’t compute.”

Now those are clearly provocative words, but Cohen is onto something here.  The NBA has a Developmental League.  This is such an obvious place for the league to let their 18-year-olds get seasoning that I’m not even sure how there can be any debate in the future about this.

The rule has proven to be clunky and self-serving for David Stern (protecting his owners’ wallets) while creating unintended consequences for the college game. 

It’s difficult to believe that either Stern or Hunter could make a solid case for keeping the rule around.  Unfortunately, without the heat from Congress, they may have had no incentive to do anything about it.

Yes, the timing of the letter may have been staged for maximum effect, but sometimes that’s just what it takes for the press and the fans to bring out the magnifying glass and study the issue more extensively.  I don’t know anything more about Cohen, but hopefully he is as effective on more meaningful issues as he seems to be in the fantasyland of professional sports.

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~ by acm213 on June 3, 2009.

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