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Solving the "One and Done" Problem in the NCAA

Larry Scott has an idea that Lorenzo Romar finds impractical. What do you think?

Were the Huskies better or worse off watching Spencer Hawes go through the program as a one and done?
Were the Huskies better or worse off watching Spencer Hawes go through the program as a one and done?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few weeks, Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott, along with representatives from several other NCAA conferences, have been speaking publicly about their collective interest in starting a dialogue about implementing a new rule that would effectively make college basketball and football players ineligible to play as true freshmen.

It has been widely known for some time that Scott, along with some of his more powerful colleagues, have been less than enamored with the "one and done" phenomenon in Men's College Basketball ever since the NBA in 2006 implemented their draft age limits.  Through the implementation of that rule, the NBA essentially compelled the most talented players in high school to have to play a year in college before becoming draft eligible. Many players, including those not at all ready, have gone that route to the NBA and basically made a mockery of the already languishing notion of a "student athlete" in the ranks of the NCAA.  Said Larry Scott:

[Freshmen ineligibility] would do a lot to restore credibility and integrity to college basketball. It would demonstrate they're students first on those teams and they're in class and getting grades that would keep them eligible. The reality of one-and-done is it's not even one. It's like half or three-quarters [of a school year] and done."

For years, the NCAA has been willing to tolerate the trampling of the "student athlete" concept in the name of almighty buck as both Football and Basketball have flourished as spectator sports and broadcast-worthy assets.  However, the last few years have also brought with it considerable backlash as anti-trust regulators, politicians and the courts have each scrutinized the business model emerging in college athletics.  One issue that has caught the attention of many is the disparity in academic performance between the majority of college athletes and players in both football and basketball.  In a statement made by the Big 10's Bob Bowlsby, he noted that while only 19% of all athletes play in one of the two major revenue sports, those same players make up 80% of the academic infractions.  Additionally, those two sports are the only two in all of the NCAA that have graduation rates below 75%.

This is surely not a silver bullet kind of solution. But it could be a major factor in saving college athletics from itself.

One goal of this debate will be to address this issue.  There is not currently a specific proposal on the table as to how a Freshman Ineligibility rule may work.  However, the scope of the conversation will likely start with an examination of previous standards that the NCAA implemented with regard to freshmen ineligibility before those rules were eliminated in 1972.  Conference commissioners have given up on the notion of the NBA upping their age limits by another year and the heat being applied by outside entities, particularly those investigating various aspects of anti-trust claims, is too great to be ignored.  With Larry Scott, Bob Bowlsby and leadership from other conferences like the ACC and the Big 12 all focused on the issue, there is no doubt that this topic will continue to stay in the news.

The question on the table is whether or not the implementation of a rule - no matter what specific details get implemented - would help to solve the problem.  One Husky coach who has had his fair share of issues with young players, Husky Men's Basketball Coach Lorenzo Romar, chimed in on the subject almost a whole year ago.  He doesn't think that the idea would prevent first-year athletes from being drafted by the NBA.  His notion is that NBA scouts would be just as interested in an ineligible freshman as they are with one that is eligible and that the most talented players will still see themselves get drafted no matter if they are on the bench or playing a full season.  There have been others who have also suggested that the implementation of such a rule would not only force good players to find another venue to play in their first year but it would also exacerbate an already corrupted market for transfer players who would enter a program already past their freshman year.

While I've had my fair share of angst over some aspects of the Pac 12 Commissioner's performance the last few years, I have to say that I believe that this idea has some merit.  I certainly concede that the implementation of such a rule could spark a myriad of unintended consequences.  I also have no illusions that this rule alone would somehow rescue the dying premise of this thing that we call the "student athlete" in major collegiate revenue sports.  This is surely not a silver bullet kind of solution.

But it could be a major factor in saving college athletics from itself.

Like every brand, the NCAA is built on a core consumer base who extract from it a critical value proposition.  For the NCAA, those core consumers are the people who have a vested stake in the academic institutions that sponsor these various sports.  The core value proposition that those consumers extract is the pride and fulfillment that come from watching and supporting "one of their own" as they compete and succeed against rivals.  For this consumer, it is isn't about the quality of the product on the field - we have professional sports to provide that value.  For them, it is about the notion of school pride and continued involvement.

It is certainly true that it isn't the core consumer that has driven college athletics to its zenith.  No.  For that, the mass market had to get interested.  Casual fans who don't necessarily have the same investment in the member institutions have become enamored with all that has come to pass in College Football and Basketball.  Fueled in equal parts by broadcasters hungry for content (ESPN) and commercial enterprises looking for pay days (Las Vegas), these sports have become phenomenally valuable entertainment properties.  That value is, no doubt, driven in large part by the presence of remarkably talented players and would be diminished some by the implementation of freshmen ineligibility rules.

The bigger picture in my mind, however, is the diminishing value of those same assets if the core consumers continue to be marginalized in the overall equation.  If you are an Oregon fan, would you rather be in the presence of fellow alums who have suffered through the lean years and can relate to your stories about getting lost in Deady Hall or in a bar full of hanger-ons decked out in neon yellow and green who have no idea that UO isn't actually in Portland?    An analogy here is that of premium brand consumer products.  If everybody was wearing a Rolex, those who are the most dedicated of Rolex customers would no longer get the same value out of owning one as they did before.

I believe that most core consumers of college sports are more than willing to accept a less spectacular product on the floor if it means more ability to become invested in the student athletes that more closely share the same values they had when they went through college.  I'll take more Jon Brockman's and fewer Spencer Hawes any day of the week.  Give me one more Isaiah Thomas and one fewer Tony Wroten.  You can have that Terrence Ross if you give me back a Quincy Pondexter.

The devil, of course, is in the details - particularly when it comes to actual scholarship count adjustments (85 football scholarships won't do) and the handling of transfer rules.  But this is an idea that is worthy of debate and, ultimately, action.