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Let’s End One-and-done. College Basketball Will Be Fine.

From the college perspective, ending one-and-done would present challenges, but the game has faced it all before — and it’s simply the right thing to do.

There’s one thought I keep coming back to in college sports, regardless of the issue. It applies to NIL. To the transfer portal. Now, it applies to the potential end of the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule:

Do right by the players and figure everything else out later.

For name, image, and, likeness, that means letting players earn the money they deserve; from there, you can work out how to eliminate the bad actors. For the portal, it means to let players go where they want, when they want, and determine out how to maintain some level of continuity in college sports after.

Here, it means letting players go pro when they think they’re ready.

College basketball will be fine.

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And that’s good news considering that the NBA and NBPA are reportedly expected to agree to lower the age for NBA Draft eligibility to 18, reopening the gates of prep-to-pro that closed in 2006.

Make no mistake: college basketball was better for having Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, and Zion Williamson for a year. Losing talent like that will bring down the overall product. It won’t, however, lead to poor ratings, empty arenas, and the end of the sport as we know it.

Would the sport have been better in the 90s and early 2000s with Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James going to college? Of course. But instead, we got Gonzaga’s first run to the Elite Eight, Duke’s Miracle Minute, and Carmelo’s championship season. Would all that have been amazing as that above trio suiting up in college for a year? Probably not. But those are the moments we still talk about today — not how the sport desperately needed Kobe to take his talents to March Madness.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s going to happen at the upper tiers of the sport if and went the NBA age limit lowers to 18. Duke and Kentucky won’t get all the truly elite freshmen; instead, they’ll get a few of them, plus a few from the next crop that are currently going to places like Virginia and Tennessee. Virginia and Tennessee will, in turn, get a couple of the kinds of players currently committing to Notre Dame and Florida, and so on.

The overall product will dip a tad — let’s lean into that and get it over with — but we’re really talking about just a handful of players per year that would conceivably go pro right out of high school, and only a few of them would have been true impact players at an elite college program anyway. One of the beauties of college sports is that, with rare exceptions, we don’t tune in for the players — we tune in for the team. And we’ll cheer as the next guy wins national player of the year. When someone becomes an All-American. Someone hits a buzzer-beater in the Final Four.

Doesn’t matter who it is.

How the athletes themselves ultimately approach all of this becomes an intriguing question. We know that the absolute best are going pro, but there’s another set of prospects that this affects — the players who come from low-income backgrounds and need to start making money to support their families. Pre-one-and-done, they could have taken their chance in the draft, tried to catch on with a team, and reserve the right to head off to Europe if an NBA future doesn’t materialize. Now, college in the age of NIL (and innovative setups like Overtime Elite) is an appealing path.

If, say, a 4-star, top-40 recruit can go to a basketball-crazed school and make thousands in NIL deals, that may be more than enough to keep him in college for a couple of extra years that wouldn’t have been on the table before.

Of course, there will still be one-and-dones — guys on the fringes of the first round of the NBA Draft who want to improve their stock, or players who were underrated and overlooked out of high school and then blow up — but there will be fewer. And that means that even in the transfer portal era, there will be more continuity in the game. Casual fans won’t need until January to learn who the top players on the top teams are. That helps the sport.

Maybe not as much as having a Zion or a KD, but it helps.

And if that comes as a result of doing right by the players, it’s all the better.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.