Go West Young Men

I’ve seen one NBA game in the past six years, so naturally I’m qualified to comment on yesterday’s draft. Mostly I get my news about sports from NPR’s John Feinstein, who seems to publish a book every 12 weeks, and Frank Deford. Real sports fans are probably scoffing at me at this point. Nonetheless, I had this thought: Deford and Feinstein often lament the decline of sports. A key complaint seems to be that 19-year-olds like Greg Oden can earn bajillions of dollars without, get this, making it past their freshmen years in college! The travesty! For some reason, I’ve never heard an NPR commentator complain that Matt Damon never finished Harvard before becoming a professional actor. I also don’t hear proposals to require a college diploma to start a business. But Feinstein today praised the NBA’s ban on high school players in the draft. The NBA can do what it likes, naturally. It’s a private organization. But the idea of the ban seems strange, a kind of rigidity in the sports labor market that keeps competition out and forces young high school graduates to do a year in college for no appreciable gain. Feinstein made a couple of points that seemed dubious to me. He said that the NBA’s rule barring high school students from the draft meant that Oden and others were more valuable to the NBA because of their maturity and the name recognition they had built up in college. Given that more people watch the NBA than college hoops, I suspect that a year being paid to play professional ball would do more to increase name recognition (not to mention maturity) in young players. I also think that Feinstein and Deford miss a major advantage to having high school players go straight to the NBA: Such an arrangement would drain much of the money out of college sports and, with it, the obvious and non-obvious corruption of college student life. College sports ought to augment the college experience, not detract or distract from it. I’m for intramural and inter-college games. I just think that highly talented basketball players should go where they’re valued, and colleges should focus on education, not arena sports.