Thursday, June 4, 2009

Congressman Cohen Questions NBA Age Rule

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 12:36 PM

A little late posting this, but Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen has sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA Player's Union director Billy Hunter asking them to revisit the league's current age restriction in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Cohen said that one of his primary arguments against the rule, which is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and union, was that soldiers can fight for their country at age 18 but not play in the N.B.A. He also said noted that predominantly white sports like hockey, baseball and golf lack similar restrictions.

“There’s something wrong with keeping kids, who are more likely to be African-American than not, from playing professional basketball and football when they can help their families and communities immediately,” Cohen said. “They’re forced to go to school when they have no desire or interest in going to school.”

My basic reaction: I think Cohen is certainly correct about the age restriction, though some of his rhetoric (the "slavery" reference) is overheated, or at least imprecise — there's certainly a plantation metaphor to be made here, but you need to be careful with it. Beyond that, though, I don't see this as an issue that exactly warrants congressional intervention.

Though I think the age restriction is ethically indefensible — it's arguably good for the NBA, good for college basketball, and good for fans of both, but it's also wrong — I'm amused by the idea that doing away with it will somehow clean up college basketball, as if preps-to-pros level players are the only ones for whom college programs cut corners.

The major steps toward fixing all this seem obvious to me, but I don't think there's the will to do it: The NBA needs to evolve the Developmental League into a full-scale, true minor league along the baseball model, though certainly not as vast.

And colleges? How about getting rid of athletic scholarships and refusing to pay coaches a dime more than any professor on campus? Make sports an extracurricular activity, not the reason people are coming to your school.

And then there's the largely unrecognized part of the problem: College sports fans, who insist that these institutions be responsible for entertaining them via what are essentially semi-pro sports franchises.

The NBA age restriction needs to go, but anyone who thinks that's going to clean up college hoops is kidding his or herself.


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