Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The One and Done Rule in NCAA Basketball Recruitment Scandal

By Geneva SaupePublished January 1, 2017

The recent FBI probe intro bribery and fraud in the college basketball recruitment process has resulted coaches from top programs being arrested and fired. In light of this, perhaps it's time to reexamine the NBA's one and done rule, which mandates that players be a year removed from high school before they can enter the draft.

In late September 2017, news broke that ten people had been arrested following an FBI probe into bribery and fraud in NCAA men's basketball recruiting processes. Those charged include assistant coaches, AAU management officials, and Adidas executives, who allegedly gave  recruits illegal payoffs and bribes in order to get them to commit to play for certain schools and hire certain advisors. In addition to cooperating with the FBI, the NCAA has launched its own investigation that may lead to the sanctioning of players, coaches, and programs. Additionally, the federal probe continues, with the potential for more arrests and criminal charges to come. Those who are found guilty of federal changes could potentially face decades in jail, while any athletic departments found by the NCAA to have violated its policies risk sanction up to and including total suspension of their men's basketball program.
The allegations have already changed the face of college basketball. Louisville has been the hardest hit after it came out that Brian Bowen, a five-star recruit, accepted $100,000 in order to play for the school. A day later, head coach Rick Pitino, who has won the NCAA tournament twice and survived for 16 years and two major scandals at Louisville, including the program providing prostitutes to recruits, was placed on administrative leave, beginning the contractually-designated process of his firing. Bowen is now suspended indefinitely, and may face criminal charges. USC, Arizona, and Oklahoma State have all had assistant coaches arrested, and are set to begin their seasons under investigation. Depending on the conclusions of the NCAA investigation, their 2017-18 seasons could be retroactively voided, leaving coaches and players in a state of limbo. In unmasking what many had long assumed was going on beneath glossy surface of college basketball, the FBI probe has changed the way that fans, players, and the media feel about a sport that makes the NCAA over $1 billion annually.
The NCAA has long been plagued by questions around its policy of amateurism, which mandates that players cannot be payed anything above their scholarship for the full cost of attending their university, despite the fact that they can bring in millions of dollars to the school. Players also are unable to profit from their own image or stardom via autograph signings or endorsement deals. To add to the incongruity, head coaches are incredibly well paid - in 39 states, the highest paid public employee is a men's basketball or football coach, often bringing home upwards of $4 million per year based on their ability to convert unpaid yet highly valuable teenagers into wins, ticket sales, and marketing deals. Perhaps exacerbating these faulty economics, in 2005 the NBA adopted what is known as the "one-and-done rule," which states that prospects must be 19 years old and one year removed from high school to play basketball professionally. While technically players can and do play professionally in international leagues before entering the NBA, in recent years this policy has created a flood of players that play college hoops for one year before entering the NBA draft, leading to high turnover in many elite programs and making laughable the prospect that these players see any value in the "student" part of being student-athletes.
Other professional sports leagues have different eligibility rules, leading to different recruiting dynamics. To play professional football, for example, players must be three years removed from high school. Baseball's system is more complicated, but potentially applicable to the NBA: players can go pro right out of high school, but if they elect to go to a four-year college, they must stay for at least three years. This allows the very best players, for whom it makes no financial sense to play for free for a year, to play professionally right away. Players with less secure prospects, however, are still able to go to college and invest significant time in both their game and their studies. Changing basketball to a system like this one would not entirely address the economic inequalities at the heart of amateurism in NCAA sports, but it would make meaningful progress and be good for fans, players, and programs.
Changing the one-and-done rule would reduce the enormous pressure that programs currently place on recruiting. Because top players would enter the NBA directly, teams would be looking at less secure prospects, and wouldn't have the same overwhelming economic incentives to resort to bribery and other illegal measures. Further, taking the focus off of recruiting would allow teams to refocus on player development, with the guarantee that their investment would pay off, as players would be required to stay in college for at least three years. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of payoffs and bribery, it creates programs that care about their players in the longer term.
While viewership for March Madness has remained steady, the rest of the NCAA men's basketball season has been losing viewers in recent seasons. Some of this can be attributed to the advent of streaming and other network and bureaucratic issues, but there is also growing discontent among fans at the factory-like nature of elite programs. It's less fun to be invested in players who only stick around for one season and who clearly view college hoops as a something they need to put up with to get to the NBA. Changing the one-and-done rule would make NCAA basketball more fun by reducing turnover and allowing for greater player and team development over seasons.
The recent recruiting scandal has cracked open the world of NCAA basketball, and provides the perfect opportunity to rethink the way that programs relate to their players. Eliminating the one-and-done rule in favor of a system like baseball, where players who elect to go to a four year college must stay at least three years, would put the team's focus on development, rather than recruiting, and make the game better for both players and fans.