Why Adam Silver’s comments on the ‘one-and-done’ rule miss the mark

NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined FS1’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” for a wide-ranging discussion on the state of the NBA on Wednesday.

And while issues such as “super teams” and resting players are always hot-button, Silver’s most intriguing response may have come following a question on the “one and done” rule. The rule, which states that players must be one year removed from high school before entering the NBA Draft went into place in 2006, and was basically re-approved during the latest round of collective bargaining last year.

But even though the one-and-done rule will be in place for at least a few more years, Silver is at least reconsidering his stance. Here’s what he told Cowherd:

“Our historical position since we raised the age from 18 to 19 was that we want to go from 19 to 20, and the union’s position is they want to go from 19 to 18.

“In the last round of collective bargaining, Michele Roberts and I both agreed ‘Let’s get through these core economic issues in terms of renewing the collective bargaining agreement, and then turn back to this age issue. Because it’s one I think we need to be more thoughtful on, and not just be in an adversarial position, sort of under the bright lights of collective bargaining.”

Silver continued, explaining why he is now considering changing the rule.

“I’ll take your point one step further. Even the players, the so-called one-and-done players, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize them as going to one year of school.

“What’s happening now, even at the best schools, they enroll at those universities and they attend those universities until either they don’t make the tournament, or to whenever they lose in or win the NCAA tournament. That becomes their last day. So, in essence, it’s a half-and-done. A half a school year, and then they go on.”

Silver continued with more comments, but that was the crux of his opinion on the one-and-done. And while no one should or will tell Silver how to run his league, what I can tell you is this: Silver is dead wrong here. Not on whether the rule should be changed (that’s his prerogative) but on his reason for changing it.

As someone who covers college basketball and knows several major programs well (including a bunch that regularly bring in one-and-done players), the idea that players go to school for only one semester, drop out in January and moonlight through the NCAA tournament is old and antiquated thinking. It’s as cliché at this point as asking “Is Joe Flacco elite?”

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You know how I’m so positive about this? There are a few reasons. But for starters, the NCAA has instituted bylaws to make sure that this exact thing doesn’t happen. It’s called the “Academic Progress Rate” or “APR” for short.

I won’t bore you with too many details, but the gist is this: Every kid who enrolls at your school (male or female, in all sports) is given a certain number of “points” for every semester that he/she finishes in good academic standing. You lose points for a kid who does not complete a semester in good academic standing. Lose enough points and you’re penalized by the NCAA. For basketball programs, punishments include being banned from the NCAA tournament. As an example, UConn missed the 2013 NCAA tournament because of a bad APR.

Now, does that mean that every kid finishes every semester in good academic standing? No. As Silver correctly pointed out, Ben Simmons – as seen in the Showtime documentary about his one year at LSU – basically left LSU the day his season ended. It has happened with other kids at other places, too. One kid doesn’t hurt your APR enough to get you banned from the NCAA tournament.

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But if enough kids drop out mid-semester or just don’t finish classes? Then you’re in real trouble. That also means that if – as Silver maintains – all one-and-done kids dropped out mid-semester, schools like Kentucky, Duke and Kansas (programs that regularly enroll one-and-dones) would be banned from every NCAA tournament.

And while I can’t speak for every kid or every school, I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that most schools that regularly enroll one-and-done kids take the APR very seriously.

For example, when John Calipari recruits a kid to Kentucky, one of the demands he places on him – even if that player is destined to be the first pick in the draft – is that he finishes the spring semester. His basic logic is, “We’re going to do everything we can to help you make your dream come true (play in the NBA). But you’ve got to help us too.” Same at UCLA, which lost three one-and-done players this year. I’m sure it’s similar at other places like Kansas and Arizona, which regularly enroll one-and-dones as well.

As a matter of fact, it was ironic that Silver made his comments on Wednesday. On the same day, one of the top high school prospects in America, a point guard named Immanuel Quickley released a video of his in-home visit with Calipari. The visit took place over a month ago (long before Silver’s comments) but get this: In the video, Calipari actually says that the expectation is to finish out the semester (at the 25:20 mark):

Ultimately, there are a lot of other issues to be discussed when it comes to academics and college basketball. Like how, as Calipari mentioned, Kentucky and many other schools offer lifetime scholarships to players, meaning that if they leave after one year, they’re still welcome to return to campus at any time to finish their degrees. Or how many players do, in fact, come back to school between NBA seasons to do classwork toward graduation (like Jahlil Okafor did last summer).

Those are conversations for another day, though. What’s important today is this: While Silver can run the NBA however he pleases, he is flat wrong when it comes to the one-and-done rule.