New NBA Minimum Draft Age:

Mike McCann at Sports Law Blog has an interesting chart and some reflections on the new NBA minimum draft age, looking specifically at patterns of NBA players getting in trouble with the law (a proxy for personal maturity). Mike has been critical of the NBA's decision to raise the draft age with the intent of excluding kids from going straight to the NBA out of high school and his evidence presented here makes a pretty strong case.

His conclusions:

First, college education does not appear to diminish the probability of a player getting in trouble with the law.


Second, players appear more likely to get in trouble with the law towards the middle and end of their careers than at the start.


No matter the interpretation, it doesn't appear that the recent decision by the NBA and NBPA to raise the age of NBA draft eligibility from 18 to 19 (or one year out of high school) will improve the overall law-abidingness of NBA players. If anything, actually, this data suggests that it might have the opposite effect.

My view is that raising the draft age by one year will likely just increase the corruption in high school and college basketball. If I had to predict, I suspect that the response will be to just increase the bidding among the Oak Hill Academy-type programs for players to do one year of prep school or for lower-ranked schools to try to grab guys for one year. Either way, I suspect that the corruption in the system is likely to increase.

Overall, I think that raising the draft age by one year will likely have some serious unintended consequences. They may have either been better off keeping it the same and allowing high schoolers to go straight to the pros or moving to an NFL-type system where kids actually have to commit to college for a few years. The current compromise seems like the worst of all worlds.

KenB (mail):
I'm no expert, but it seems like baseball has the best model -- kids who want to play ball and get an education go to college, kids who just want to play ball go into the minor leagues, where they can spend some time learning the ropes and growing up before facing the pressure of the big time. But it's hard to see how we get there from here, considering how much money everyone makes off of the enforced amateur status of the college basketball &football players.
7.22.2005 5:15pm
VFB (mail):
If it is the case that veteran players are more likely to be arrested than young players are, then it will follow that players with more college will be arrested at a higher frequency. This is true even if more higher education decreases the likelihood of a player being arrested. This is because the veteran players on average had more education. When Derrick Coleman and Jason Kidd entered the draft, there were no high school players.
7.22.2005 5:21pm
Ron Burgundy (mail):
In the NFL, I don't believe players actually have to commit to college fore a few years. The NFL rule, if I am correct, simply states that players must be two years removed from high school. This may have the functional effect of forcing players to commit to college, but it isn't necessarily the rule.

Also, generally for baseball it's a matter of economics for kids that go to the minors versus those that go to college. Most kids drafted high enough out of high school (guaranteed money contracts) do go straight to the pros, in fact most decisions to draft college players are more closely scrutinized because they haven't been reared by the pro organizations and tend to be farther along in developing bad habits with the use of aluminum bats. Generally those players that choose to go to college versus fighting their way through the minor league system from the 51st round of the draft, do so simply because they will receive tiny contracts and the odds are heavily stacked against them. Far more so than late round picks in other sports.
7.22.2005 5:29pm
CTB (mail):
I think there is a problem with this line of thinking. It seems to assume that the NBA is making the age limit so that players will be more law abiding citizens or more mantally mature. I agree that some NBA types have put forth this argument, but I think the real reason is that the Owners don't want to pay teenagers millions of dollars to learn how to play basketball. To me this requirement of post highschool "basketball education" is as justified as forcing law students to go to law school before they practice law.
However, I do agree with the unintended consequenses, but I doubt the NBA isn't concerned about those, becuase now they
7.22.2005 5:37pm
flyer (mail) (www):
There is an NBA Developmental League, but it consists of 8 teams, that haven't done a whole lot in developing NBA level talent. It's never had to, though, because the NBA has always had a de facto minor league in the collegiate programs. Why spend the money developing a viable minor league system when you don't need to. On the other hand, baseball has well over a hundred minor league teams at different levels developing players of the future.

I don't know which method has been more efficient. It seems to me that MLB clubs cast a wide net in the 18-20 year old pool and bring lots of prospects into the system. Then they pick, choose, and trade witin that talent pool. Some players become very successful, some quit, some hang on and play in the minors for quite a few years before moving on. This costs MLB teams some amount of money to run these clubs (unless they're self supporting, which I doubt they are entirely).

NBA teams (and the NFL) draft selectively from the college and (until now) high school ranks. They take a risk on unproven high school talent, presumably more than on college players with at least a couple years of experience. That risk has a cost as well, but it seems to be a lower cost than setting up their own minor league proving ground.

I'm not in favor of an age requirement to play in the NBA, although I think (I'm NOT a lawyer) it's defensible in court. At least the NFL has successfully defended its similar rules. It's clear they're doing this for economic reasons, though, rather than for any "good of the game" nonsense, and I suspect that leveraging that free farm system has something to do with it.
7.22.2005 5:44pm
I think CTB is right. The main argument for raising the age has never been to make the players more "law-abiding". The main concern is that high schoolers entering the NBA hurt both the college game (depriving them of the best new players) and the pro game (because many high schoolers were not ready for the NBA).
7.22.2005 5:46pm
Zywicki (mail):
Joe and CTB:
Doesn't the NBA put the "maturity" point forward in order to avoid antitrust scrutiny? I think you are right about the real motives--and the speciousness of the NBA's articulated reasons probably demonstrates that the proffered motives are pretextual.
7.22.2005 5:56pm
Catfish (mail):
If drafting a highschooler to play is such a risk, why do teams do it? Is basketball talent really that much of a scarcity that teams couldn't draft someone with 2-4 years of college experience who would be just as good as the 18 year old?
Why doesn't the "free market" in players work here?

7.22.2005 6:00pm
John Jenkins (mail):
The baseball rule works differently. High school players can be drafted and go to the teams' farm clubs. Once a player commits to college, he can't be drafted until after his junior year (or I assume 3 years later in general, but am not sure).

Baseball also has a ridiculous draft with an ungodly number of rounds compared to the 4 rounds in the NBA and 7 in the NFL.
7.22.2005 6:58pm
mikemccann (mail) (www):
I thank all of you for visiting Sports Law Blog and contributing these remarks.

In terms of why the NBA has sought a higher age floor, the league has carefully avoided discussion of player performance, since prep-to-pro players average more points, grab more rebounds, and dish out more assists than does the average NBA player or the average player of any age group. Moreover, and contrary to popular opinion, high school players who make themselves eligible for the NBA Draft are a relatively small, self-selected group: only 45 over the last 11 NBA Drafts, and a greater percentage have been drafted, and drafted in the first round (meaning guaranteed multi-million contracts) than any other age group. Instead, David Stern has repeatedly referred to their lack of maturity and ill-preparedness for the "pressures" of the NBA (something which I believe I disproved in my post on Sports Law Blog). In fact, here are some of Stern's recent comments:
"[Stern] saying players need to have 'more life experience to better enable them to adjust.'" From: Rocky Mountain News (Feb. 18, 2005)
"[Stern] said an age limit would 'allow kids another reason to have another year or two to grow, to deal with the stress, the discipline and, really, the life experience that would be helpful. I'd like to think that somebody would react better at 20 than 19.'" Washington Post (May 10, 2005)
"'Because even if they might not get the same intense training from a basketball perspective … they will get a year of experience, a year of life experience, a year of education,' said Stern." Roanoke Times (July 6, 2005)
If you are interested in some of the data and what I consider to be clear economic incentives for when to declare for the Draft and when not to declare, please check out my law review article entitled "Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft, 3 Va. Sports &Ent. L.J. 113 (2004)" on this topic.

I also have supplemental data on Sports Law Blog, such as in these posts:

High School Players Average More Points, Rebounds, and Assists
Legal Issues of NBA Draft Age Floor
Red Herring of Age in the NBA Draft

As a disclaimer, I was a member of Maurice Clarett's legal team in his lawsuit against the NFL last year, though I joined after publication of my law review article referenced above. Thank you again to all, I really appreciate your interest and insight, Mike McCann
7.22.2005 10:04pm
Wes Russell (mail):
Oak Hill does not take "preps". You have to be a high school student and cannot be doing a PG year. Otherwise, I think Prof. Zywicki's post is accurate.
7.23.2005 1:41pm

1. Would it really be a bad idea for the NBA or NFL to require the kids to, y'know...graduate from college before being drafted?

I can see a few advantages for the leagues:

A. More mature players, probably less likely to present personnel issues (steroids, drugs, etc, etc).

B. Players have a fallback, so are less likely to do desperate things like juice themselves.

C. It looks better, PR-wise.

D. I am...unsure that there is really a difference in performance between a player who's gotten their degree and one who has not.

Advantages for the players:

A. There is a fallback. Plain and simple.
7.23.2005 3:09pm

Remember that all it takes is one hit, one fall, one misstep to destroy a career. The longer one plays as an amateur, the more opportunities there are to suffer a career-ending injury. In effect, the universities will reap the added benefits of the income generated by the atheletes while the athletes themselves shoulder a disproportionate share of the risk.

While forcing players to graduate would have the attractiveness of a bright-line rule, I really don't see how that would necessarily accomplish the advantages you list. A college education doesn't automatically prevent stupid (or smart) people from doing stupid things.
7.23.2005 3:50pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
Keeping the Talent at Bay--I was blogging about this earlier today. I mentioned two things that I haven't seen in this debate (not so far, anyway):

1. NBA union: The rule was put in place as part of collective bargaining. Why isn't anyone mentioning the most likely instigator of the rule? Pro players, particularly those getting paid scale, don't want an onslaught of younger players forcing them out to pasture early.

2. Race: Professional tennis, gymnastics, figure skating, and swimming--in short, all the sports that require money--don't have a high school requirement, much less a college requirement. Any discussion about the importance of maturity and college for an athlete is ludicrous when you think of the pubescent little darlings competing for Wheatie contracts after their Olympic gold.
7.23.2005 5:54pm
Ralph (mail):
I don't think race has much to do with the NBA age limit. Soccer, the most popular sport in the world, has no age limit. In fact, a 14 year old is currently playing for a professional team in the U.S. right now. Soccer may even be the cheapest sport to play, even poor Brazilian kids play it all the time.

It is hard to see how the NBA's (or NFL's) age limit really affects race when compared to the the harm done by the NCAA and most schools' current practices. Especially when the NBA Player's Union represents such a high percentage of minorities.

As for corruption and race, it is ludicrous to think basketball (and football) isn't already full of corruption that has a racial element. The fact most of the kids that do stay for four years of basketball or football don't even graduate anywhere close to their school's graduation rate is, in my opinion, inherently corrupt. Basketball and football already allows some/many academic institutions to profit by millions, if not hundreds of millions, off unpaid employees that don't even receive a degree, which is supposedly why the go to college (since a very small percent ever advance to any professional level). Academic corruption/profit, in my opinion, may be the only place where race is a factor because so many minorities (70-80% of the average team) are disadvantaged from an academic creditional viewpoint by the current practices. How hard is it to make graduation rates part of the expectation of your coach? How hard is it for the NCAA require some meaningful graduation rate for college teams that involves fining or other punishment of a school/coach/team that continues to fail at meeting these levels? It can't be that hard, especially when education is supposed to be the #1 priority of the institutions, not free advertising for alumni donations.
7.23.2005 10:15pm
RPS (mail):

1. NBA union: The rule was put in place as part of collective bargaining. Why isn't anyone mentioning the most likely instigator of the rule? Pro players, particularly those getting paid scale, don't want an onslaught of younger players forcing them out to pasture early.

2. Race: Professional tennis, gymnastics, figure skating, and swimming--in short, all the sports that require money--don't have a high school requirement, much less a college requirement. Any discussion about the importance of maturity and college for an athlete is ludicrous when you think of the pubescent little darlings competing for Wheatie contracts after their Olympic gold.

(1) Taking into account this year, the number of H.S. players drafted over the last ten years is in the low 40s (I don't recall the exact number). Even when you factor in under-19 Euros, the impact of under-19 players on actual NBA rosters is quite small - at least I wouldn't call it an onslaught. So in a league with 300+ players we're talking about roughly 9-10 guys per year being affected. And even that's a stretch since most under-19 guys just fill bench spots. (Plus, with the expansion of rosters from 12 to 14 under the new CBA, there are now 60 more roster spots that teams must fill.)

(2) I've never understood the comparison of team sports to individual sports (maybe that's because of my own shortcomings). But in tennis and golf, the only cost to the league of letting a H.S. kid play is the roster spot they are taking from someone else. In the NBA, unlike MLB and the NFL, the vast majority of active players were first round picks and 80+% were drafted in the first or second round. This makes draft picks extremely valuable. It makes sense that a team would want to have as much information as possible on a player before investing so heavily in him.

Regardless of whether I agree with the NBA's contention that the age requirement will benefit the players in someway, I think it's unquestionably a good business decision, i.e., good for the game.

I'm surprised that on a legal blog no one has compared the new age requirement to the clerkship moratorium. The NBA Draft, just like the hiring of clerks, involves individuals investing in other individuals who will play a large role in the success of the venture. In each situation the selection is based on limited information and the moratorium/age requirement was imposed to give those doing the selecting another year to collect information, so they can make a more informed decision. Except that NBA teams are locked in for three years (now two), and GMs can't take over themselves if need be.

Whereas the MLB and NFL drafts more closely resemble law school admissions. There, you are also targeting individuals who you hope will be successful in your organization, but you're allowed a much greater margin of error.
7.24.2005 6:12pm
Steve in CA (mail):

Why in God's name would a college degree be necessary for a career as a professional athlete? Only about 1 in 4 Americans graduates from a 4-year college, so for most jobs, a degree isn't necessary. Why would "pro athlete" be one of the exceptions?

By the way, Mike McCann makes some excellent points. If you look at all of the players who've gone straight to the NBA from high school, they are, on average, far superior to players who go to college. They also don't get in any more trouble. David Stern is talking out of his ass.
7.25.2005 12:58pm
Citizen Jeremy (mail):
If you're looking for increasingly responsible players, I'm not sure how requiring folks that breezed through HS taking "Sports Math" and "English for Athletes" are gonna be better off after university professors hand out free grades for Rec Admin classes. It's not like they really need to do any work in their classrooms anyway.
7.25.2005 8:08pm
Clayton Gibbs (mail):
i think that people should be able to get drafted right out of high school because the nba needs some players that really know how to play the game with intensity and ambition. If the owners want to draft a kid right out of high school than they should be able to do so. some of the kids out in the real world dont have enough money to go to college but are really good at basketball and want to be in the nba but they just dont have the chance. i am in high school and i am really good at basketball and i dont have all that much money but i want to be in the nba
3.21.2006 1:00pm