Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones drew scrutiny a few years ago when he tweeted out the following: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS”. The crude nature of the post didn’t remove the larger message — there are countless athletes at big-name programs for whom school is not a real priority.
Sixers stud Ben Simmons seems to sympathize with that line of thinking. Dealing with snarky replies to his debate tweet last night, he admitted to skipping class while at LSU:
Simmons’ academic struggles are no secret. It came out earlier this year that he didn’t “have the necessary criteria to be eligible” for the Wooden Award despite his superlative performance on the basketball court. But rather than serving to shame Simmons, this only seems to highlight the absurdity of forcing kids who have no interest in school to attend classes to begin with.
While it has helped NBA teams avoid swinging and missing on high-school players, the one-and-done rule is a transparent attempt to protect the league’s interests before that of the individual. Much like the implementation of max contracts and length limits, the rule was put forth primarily to minimize risk for NBA franchises. The league gives lip service to the idea of prioritizing player development, but it’s little more than lip service.
Most players should not make the jump out of high school from a readiness perspective, but it should be their choice whether to do so or not. Earning potential is already capped for athletes because of the short span of their careers. Exacerbating that by artificially pushing back the timing of their second contract does a disservice to players who are ready to go pro.
All of this wouldn’t matter as much if the NCAA’s rules weren’t archaic regarding athletes making money away from the court. Simmons complained about how the organization and media outlets profited off his name in a trailer for his upcoming documentary*:
*Don’t let this overshadow the hilarious quip that came before it: “I have to be getting better every day, I’m not worried about my oceanography class.”
To claim players need more seasoning before they enter the league is admirable enough. The idea loses steam when they players are funneled toward a system and overarching organization who exploit the benefits of their labor without allowing the individuals to market and profit themselves on the side. The guise of “paying for their education” falls apart upon inspection of the classes and majors they’re pushed toward. Players like Simmons help fund major athletic programs around the country.
The NBA’s one-and-done rule doesn’t explicitly force prospects to go to college, but the professional, overseas path is uncharted water at best. Emmanuel Mudiay and Brandon Jennings were success stories for that route, but there’s inherent risk assumed when traveling to foreign countries to try to make things work. This is particularly true for teenagers whose development isn’t as important as their production for coaches abroad.
Therein lies the problem — if the NBA believes forcing mega-prospects to wait another year is about development, realistically the NCAA is the only place they’ll get treated like developmental projects. In many of Europe’s top leagues, the brightest young talent plays second (or even third) fiddle to veterans, causing prospects to miss out on important minutes. This creates a choice of sorts — does a prospect like Simmons want money, or does he want to be part of a college program that will pay more attention to his development, even through on-court struggles?
A teenager with one-percenter talent shouldn’t have to choose one or the other. Maybe we should be thankful for the rule, because without it Simmons might not be on the Sixers to begin with. But forcing players like him to go through a year-long charade just so they can arrive at a pre-determined destination is ridiculous.