A Major Transition for Aspiring Athletes: From High School to the Major Leagues

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Lionel Messi are three well known names that are relevant when discussing the greatest player in their respective sports. Aside from the popularity and natural ability to dominate their competitors, William Rhoden of the New York Times points out that these phenomenal athletes share yet another thing in common, which is that neither of them attended a university before starting their professional career (1).

However, their ability to proceed to the professional level right after completing the high school requirements was one that any high caliber athlete of any sport had, before recent regulations were implemented. Unlike hockey and baseball, basketball and football players are required to complete a minimum amount of years at a university before they can compete professionally (Wolfe 1).

Basketball Hall of Famer Spencer Hayward

Although the NFL is more restricted by demanding athletes to complete three years before becoming eligible for the draft, the NBA is a little more lenient — they allow players to leave their university after one year (Ryan 2). This ability to leave a university prematurely, was only possible because of a pioneer named Spencer Hayward. Spencer Hayward, a legend on the hardwood back in the 1970’s, revolutionized the game of basketball by displaying his heroic qualities and fighting against the Commissioner of the NBA for the creation of the “One and Done Rule”. As it is stated in the name, the “One and Done” allows players to only attend college for one year then declare for the draft. Unfortunately, his rule was only active for a couple of years, until the NBA came up with new restrictions.

In 2006, the NBA passed a rule to prohibit athletes who have only completed high school to enter the draft for “business” reasons (Wikipedia). These reasons were not discussed nor explained. As predicted this change sparked countless arguments and debates from athletes and experts around the world. Many felt that these player eligibility rules of the NBA and NFL are unfair towards athletes, especially those in high school.

Image taken from http://www.davemanuel.com/images/nfl_nba_logos.gif

Since those who graduate high school are typically the age of 18, some believe that, that is a mature age for an individual considering that they can partake in various adult-like activities such as vote and enlist in the army. However, according to major organizations like the NBA, high school athletes are not mature enough to enter their professional leagues right after graduating. This argument of maturity contradicts itself and proves that athletes should not be required to attend college before playing professionally. Instead, athletes who have graduated from high school are mature enough and should have the ability to choose whether if they want to attend a university or go straight to playing at the professional level.

Equality for All Sports and Careers

It is every high school athlete’s dream to play their sport professionally, unfortunately these dreams are prolonged for some of them. Athletes who play sports such as baseball or hockey are able to live out their dream careers at an early age with no restrictions unlike those of other sports. Baseball players can qualify for the MLB, or Major League for Baseball once graduating high school. Sports Analyst, Clay Travis of Fox Sports explains how the MLB has an admirable arrangement in place for young prodigies. He details, “Baseball players have a great system in place when it comes to monetizing their talents, at 18 years old they can enter the draft, be drafted, negotiate, and then if they don’t like the offer they can go to college and be redrafted again several years later” (Travis 3). This system allows player development while also giving them a chance to see if they are ready for the major leagues. Alas, not every sport is as open minded as baseball when it comes to young prodigies. Instead, sports like basketball are very intolerant.

Brendan Rodgers, professional shortstop for the Colorado Rockies and third pick of the 2015 MLB Draft.

Shannon Ryan, a sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune, makes a valid statement in her article regarding these rules for aspiring professional athletes. She states, “Indeed, our culture applauds prodigies and rightly encourages their youthful pursuit of their passions…but not when it comes to basketball,” (Ryan 1). In many cases, this claim is completely true. For instance, some of the world’s most popular music artists and entertainers started their career early, some even before graduating high school like Mark Wahlberg and Tom Cruise (Business Insider 1). However, these icons were praised for their tremendous talent at a young age and are still admired even today, barely receiving the backlash that potential professional athletes do. The fact of the matter is that high school athletes who participate in basketball or football are regulated when it comes to starting their career, while others of any other sport or career are not.

The Risk of an Education

Despite giving young athletes the chance to develop their skills and receive an education by requiring them to attend a university before competing professionally, this regulation could also backfire and actually harm one’s career.

Kevin Ware after fracturing his leg in an NCAA March Madness Tournament game

Many risk factors come into play when it comes to competing in college before moving up to the pros. One major risk is the risk of injury. The NCAA is arguably the most competitive level of play being that everyone in that league is fighting for a spot at the next level. Therefore, injuries are inevitable which could affect an athlete’s future. Take Kevin Ware for example. Kevin Ware was a NBA prospect looking to declare for the draft a couple of years ago during his time at the University of Louisville before he experienced a life changing injury during a March Madness tournament game. Sports commentator, Debbie Schlussel explains that “It’s too late for Kevin Ware. Even if he heals from this injury, few NBA teams would take a second look at him, or even a first look. None will take a chance on someone with that kind of major injury” (Schlussel 1).

Inopportunely, not only is an athlete physically affected by the injury, but the injury also affects them mentally and draft stock. Another factor that is looked at when attending school is time. Every athlete who plays their sport at a collegiate level has a time clock that starts as soon as their play their first game. Scouts for major league teams look at these clocks to choose the youngest talented player so that they can mold them into a valuable part of their team. Hence when an athlete attends school, especially for more than one year, their chances of getting drafted are slighter lower than before. Only in some cases are athletes still highly sought after even after graduating from college, like Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings. Young athletes who choose to attend school run the chances of altering their future career.

Image taken from http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19069426/nba-draft-celtics-suns-lakers-finish-best-lottery-odds

The Opportunity to Develop

Since attending a university is mandatory for those who desire to start a career as a professional athlete, those who choose to use that time productively could actually benefit their futures and themselves. Attending a university provides adolescents with knowledge and experience as an independent young adult. Sports reporter for Bleacher Report, Jason Clary explains that attending college teaches young athletes the things they need to know for adulthood (Clary 2). He goes on to state that they are also taught maturity during this time as well. Athletes are developed into responsible adults from the lessons and tests college gives on a daily basis. For those who actually finish college and receive a degree, have something to lean back on incase a sports career doesn’t work out.

Aside from the education and character benefits that college brings, along come the benefits it has on an athlete’s skills. Going to college allows players to compete against other talent as a test to see if they can compete at that level. It also allows them to train and critique their game until the feel they are ready for the professional level.

Image taken from http://t1.daumcdn.net/brunch/service/user/15UX/image/TWJCdkTdzx1kN3tbkN46AopdT9g.jpg

Many athletes used college as their platform for development, one that stands out is Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers, former and MVP and professional quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, was not highly anticipated early in his football career. Sports columnist Robby Kalland even declares “Aaron Rodgers went from not getting an FBS [Football Scholarship] offer out of high school to being a star at Cal” (Kalland 2). Rodgers started off at a community college then blossomed during his seasons at Cal which led to a lot of interest from NFL teams.

Aaron Rodgers completing a pass in an NFL exhibition match up

The opportunity to attend college before starting a career as a professional athlete, in some cases such as this one, lead to success for those who use college as time to benefit their game and themselves.

High school athletes are the future of all major league sports and deserve the opportunity to test their skills to see if they qualify for these leagues or not, without having to attend a university first. As an alternative, some believe that a new rule should be enacted in the NBA and NFL that give young prodigies the freedom to make their own decision on whether if they want to continue their school or play professionally. One addition to this rule that would make it more effective would be that if an athlete chooses to go to school, then a minimum of 2 years must be completed before entering the draft. This rule change would benefit athletes greatly and bring more young talent to these sports.

“Eligibility for the NBA Draft.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 Apr. 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Clary, Jason. “College Vs. Pros: Should Athletes Leave School Early?” Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report, 26 Jan. 2017. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Kalland, Robby. “How Aaron Rodgers Went from Not Being Recruited to a Star at Cal.” CBSSports.com. N.p., 03 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Rhoden, William C. “Early Entry? One and Done? Thank Spencer Haywood for the Privilege.” NY Times. N.p., 30 June 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Ryan, Shannon. “Enough Already: High School Stars Should Be Able to Go Directly to NBA.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.Wolfe, Cameron. “Should the NFL’s 3-year Rule for College Football Players Be Reduced?” The Denver Post. N.p., 21 Apr. 2016. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Schlussel, Debbie. “Kevin Ware Injury a Stark Example of Why Colleges Shouldn’t Be in the Sports Biz.” Debbie Schlussel RSS. N.p., 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

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