ESPN’s Outside the Lines ran a piece yesterday concerning former USC basketball player O.J. Mayo. Since he was in the seventh grade, Mayo has been identified as one of the top basketball talents in the United States. Mayo played for USC this season, but it was a foregone conclusion that his college career would be “one and done” – the shortest route to the NBA and the awaiting riches. To no one’s surprise, Mayo has declared himself for this year’s NBA Draft. Outside the Lines now reports allegations that Mayo was provided cash and gifts, since he was in high school, from a middle-man or runner for Mayo’s recently hired agent, BDA Sports.
The issue of the “one and done” player in college basketball is rife with contradiction. On one hand, colleges and universities recruit these athletes knowing that they are likely to play only one season and attend the minimal number of classes to stay eligible. Once the basketball season ends, the player is likely to declare for the draft and withdraw from school before the spring semester ends. Accordingly, the school’s academic ideals are compromised. However, the player may be able to help the school win, creating exposure, improving recruiting and generating vast amounts of revenue for the school. The revenue may be used to fund other sports and other student-athletes. In addition, if one school does not accept a “one and done” player, they may face a competitive disadvantage both recruiting and on the court. Nevertheless, the “one and done” player negatively impacts the stability of the program and team.
Dick Vitale discussed the issue on Mike and Mike this morning. Vitale believes that the problem was created by the NBA and its requirement that a player be one year removed from high school (i.e. attend one year of college) before entering the NBA Draft. Players like Mayo, should be able to go straight from high school to the NBA rather than going through the motions of attending college (Vitale suggests a study of how much time these players actually spend in school). Vitale would convene a panel of general managers to determine if a player would be a lottery pick, and if so, the player would be allowed to enter the NBA Draft from high school. Other players would not be eligible for the NBA Draft until they had completed three years of college, similar to the NFL’s rule. This would create more stability in college basketball, according to Vitale, and prevent the “one and done” problem presented by players such as Mayo.
Vitale’s proposal is sound and certainly represents an improvement upon the present system. Certain athletes, for all intents and purposes, have shed the amateur label before ever stepping foot on a college campus. Mayo, for example, chose USC in part to begin marketing the “Mayo Brand.” If these athletes possess the requisite ability, they should be allowed to enter the NBA Draft. As to the remaining players, a less restrictive solution may exist by simply allowing the market to determine when a player leaves school. However, the NCAA should allow a player who declares for the NBA draft, but is not drafted, to return to school. This should be allowed even if the player hires an agent, providing any advances are returned. Otherwise, the player is forced to make an extremely important financial and career decision while denied access to professional advice and representation.
The debate over the NBA’s Draft requirements, NCAA rules and whether amateurism is an outdated ideal will continue unabated. However, the O.J. Mayo story demonstrates that the business of sports has not merely seeped into the NCAA and collegiate athletics. For the top athletes, sports can be a business in high school and perhaps even earlier.