NBA may implement age limit
By Michael Moore The Chronicle

Durham, NC (U-WIRE) -- One and done may no longer refer to a college basketball player's career after this year.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement with its players' union ends after this season, and one of the policies commissioner David Stern wants to introduce into the new contract is a minimum age. Stern said last month that he wants to implement a limit of 20 years old, which could keep the league's increasingly adolescent new players in college for two years after high school.

Although the concept has sparked much discussion in the professional and college ranks, most of the details are far from set. Tim Frank, the NBA's vice president of basketball communications, said many of the specifics would depend on how meetings with the union progress.

"Everything in the collective bargaining agreements is interrelated," Frank said. "A lot of it depends on other discussions."

The effect of a minimum age would be groundbreaking for a league marked by its relative youth. In last year's rookie draft, 11 of the first 19 picks were under the age of 20, including eight who jumped to the NBA straight from high school. Following a trend that has erupted since 2001, 11 of this year's 24 NBA All-Stars never played a collegiate game.

The new rule would also undoubtedly have a large impact on many college programs, especially Duke. Had the 20-year-old age limit existed previously, William Avery, Corey Magette and Luol Deng-three of seven early-entries in Duke's history-would not have made the cut when they declared and likely would have been forced to remain in college. Shaun Livingston, who committed to Duke but decided to opt for last year's draft, would currently be living on East Campus.

"There needs to be a lot of clarification on [the age limit], but I think overall it's a step in the right direction," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We won't know more about it until the players' union and the NBA get together and figure out whether they're going to have it, when it's implemented and how it's done. It could be very good for basketball-it just depends how it's done."


The age minimum would not only raise the talent level of the college game by forcing players to stay at least two years, it would also significantly change the recruiting landscape for this year and in the long run.

In the short term, the threat of the measure passing and going into effect for the 2006 draft could tempt an overwhelming number of high school seniors into declaring early before they are obligated to stay in school for the next two years. More permanently, the change could open up a whole new wave of star talent for schools to attract. Many top programs have publicly declared that they have not recruited specific players because of the near certainty that the young phenoms would turn pro.

Regardless of the potential benefits, the implementation of an age limit in any form will largely depend on the agreement of the NBA Players' Association, and it does not seem that support is widespread. A survey conducted by the Rocky Mountain Newspaper polled more than one-third of the NBA's players and reported that more than 70 percent of them opposed the minimum age.

Even if the NBA does secure the support of its union, the league could face legal challenges by players who are excluded by the new system. Alan Milstein, a lawyer who represented Maurice Clarett in his suit against the NFL's similar rule, said the decisions of NBA franchises and not an age limit should decide who is ready for the pros.

"If someone is able and ready to play in the NBA and the market is there where teams will compete for these players, there is no reason for such a limit," Milstein said. "There's no profession other than sports where these types of age limits are even remotely permissible."

A number of basketball insiders still believe the players' union will warm up to the idea of an age limit because younger players with potential take roster spots away from older journeymen. The NBA continues to grow younger in part because it is cheaper for franchises to keep less experienced players than veterans. In fact, players with three years of NBA experience or less make up more than half the players on league rosters.

"It always trips me out when I look and see that the NBA Players' Association is the only association that looks out for the rights of future members as opposed to the rights of the current union members," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "Wait a minute, you are going to insure somebody's right to take your job over a paying member? Why wouldn't you put an age limit in?"

Sometime this summer, that question-and all the ones that come with it-will get an answer.

(C) 2004 The Chronicle via U-WIRE

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