One and Done – Nerlens Noel

One and Done – Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel.  Nerlens’ name has become mainstream among sports fans five months earlier than he was probably hoping.  If you don’t know his story it is because much of it still has to be written.  The freshman basketball player at Kentucky was considered a top draft prospect for the upcoming NBA Draft.  He was enjoying an excellent season with the Wildcats, leading the nation in blocked shots.  He was enjoying an excellent season until he tore his ACL in a conference game against Florida last night.

The fact that he suffered a season-ending injury is only part of the story.  What is emerging is a much bigger story.  The NBA has an eligibility rule that requires all players to be at least one year removed from the completion of high school before they can be drafted or signed by an NBA team.  This means that all aspiring NBA players must either enroll in college and play for one season or play a season abroad in a professional league before entering the NBA Draft.  This means that players like Nerlens Noel must wait a year after high school before signing an NBA contract.

Instead of signing a lucrative (although restricted) guaranteed professional contract, Nerlens Noel was forced to follow the common path of attending university and playing NCAA basketball where he is compensated with free tuition, room, and board.  He does not get paid a salary.  He does not have guaranteed compensation (or rights to workers compensation in case of injury) even though the expectation is that it is his job to play for the Kentucky Wildcats.  With his newly torn ACL, Nerlens is out of luck.  His pay day may have gotten a lot smaller.  His draft value (and contract value) is now expected to dip significantly as his injury should take 8-12 months to recover, well past the NBA Draft and into the next NBA season.

Without the NBA’s restrictions, Noel could have been eligible for the Draft the same way all players were before 2005 when the rule was instituted.  Nobody would have forced Noel to go to college and he could have (and likely would have) been drafted by an NBA team.  He would have the protection of a guaranteed contract.

Some argue that some companies and industries have standard hiring requirements such as having a university degree and that the NBA is no different than IBM when it comes to having entry restrictions.  But there are big differences between the NBA and IBM.  If IBM wanted a talented individual, not having a university degree would not stop them from hiring that person.  That individual, if they wanted to be, say, a computer engineer would have comparable employment options other than IBM.  The NBA does not have any comparable competitors.  In North America, the NBA has no competition for professional basketball talent.  There are enough cases of players who have gone straight from high school to the NBA that prove that a college apprenticeship should not be a prerequisite for an NBA contract (i.e. Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett).  It should be up to an NBA club to determine whether or not they want to take a chance on a high school player.  No one forces a team to draft a player.

One of these days a talented high school player will challenge the NBA’s age restriction in court – and win.  Sadly for Nerlens Noel, he was not that player.


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JB Hacking

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Comments (2)

  1. MPH Thursday - 14 / 02 / 2013 Reply
    I agree with your rationale for eliminating the age restriction, but I'm not sure what legal right a high-schooler has to challenge the NBA. The top owners love this rule because it limits risk. A bigger problem is the NCAA cartel...
    • Admin Friday - 15 / 02 / 2013 Reply
      This is an example of how both cartels have abused their monopoly over the game. As you put it, the NBA limits its risk by having the age restriction. But they already have a rookie salary cap which serves a similar purpose.

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