Should the NBA age limit go up? One more year? Two?

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Interesting tweet Thursday from Mike Rice, the college basketball coach at Rutgers (via Pete Thamel of the New York Times):

I keep hearing NBA owners want to adopt same rule as NFL. Players will have to wait 3 yrs to enter the draft.

I am not mentioning this because I trust the coaches sources, but rather the debate is interesting and alive as part of the ongoing labor talks. Right now the rule is players need to be one year out of high school to enter the NBA draft, which has led to the one-and-done college player, a system nobody really likes. The owners have hinted at wanting to increase that number, the players union says it wants to abolish it completely.

You can bet Rice and his fellow college coaches like the idea of locking up the best players for three years (and there is trickle down, if John Wall still has a year at Kentucky some good young point guard is going to go somewhere else, like maybe Rutgers). There is no doubt that would be good for the college game.

But to me it is fundamentally un-American to tell someone “you have the skills but you can’t earn a living doing it yet.” This isn’t making a person wait to drive or drink — those are issues of societal safety. This is taking years of earnings away from someone. Why should LeBron James need to go to three years of college when he was ready at 18 to play in the NBA? Again, we can go down the list of guys in the league now (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett) who came straight out of high school and adjusted. (For the record, I get it more in the NFL where no 18 year old is strong enough physically for the pounding at the next level.)

The owners want a higher age limit because they want players to develop on somebody else’s dime. They think they can make better draft choices if their scouts get a couple more years to watch players (they don’t make better choices, they just find new busts). They see it as getting free player development and reduced risks.

Personally, I like the baseball rule: You can get drafted right out of high school, but if you are not you have to spend three years in college.

It’s hard to see this as being a sticking point in negotiations, not compared to the issues of money anyway. But don’t be shocked if the age limit goes up in these talks, if the owners are insistent this is an area where the players may give in.