The Opossum-Palooza

It's okay. We don't know what the name means either.


Why Hockey is Better: Part 23

Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in this year's NHL draft, has opted to go to college rather than sign with the St. Louis Blues.

There. Now that I've gotten rid of most of you by leading with a sentence about hockey, I can talk about how this relates to the NBA and the NFL. Back in April, I ranted a little bit about one of Dan Wetzel's columns on Yahoo! Sports, in which he decried the NBA's and NFL's age limits for being inherently unfair. I proposed an easy solution, that being letting young guys declare themselves eligible for the draft without losing their amateur status until they sign an actual contract with a pro team. As you can see, this is already the case in hockey, where the Blues will retain Johnson's rights even while he plays "amateur" hockey at the University of Minnesota. If I'm not mistaken, the same sort of thing happens in baseball as well.

The irony of the situation, of course, is that both MLB and the NHL have well-established, legitimate minor league systems set up to develop young players who aren't quite ready for the big time. Whereas, in the case of the NFL and NBA, college athletics basically are their minor leagues. (Yes, I know about the NBADL. No, I don't consider it a legitimate minor league, but at least they're trying a little.) Imagine if, back in 2001, the Washington Wizards could have allowed Kwame Brown to play at Florida without losing their exclusive rights to him, rather than sticking him on the bench at the age of 19. How different would his career have looked?

One of the strongest arguments for an age limit is that the bevy of players leaving college early or, in basketball's case, skipping college altogether, is hurting the quality of play in the college ranks. Kind of a selfish argument from college sports fans, but there's no arguing against it. This year's NCAA Tournament was certainly entertaining to watch, but I doubt you would find many people who would argue it was high-quality basketball. Especially compared to years past. Allowing drafted players to continue in the NCAA would not only solve this problem, it would actually increase interest in the college game. It gives NBA fans who might not watch a mid-season college game a reason to be interested. If you're a 76ers fan, and your team drafts a guy in the first round and now he's playing for the University of Texas, you are much more likely to turn on a Longhorns game. (This also, unfortunately, poses the unique challenge of what to do if your team picks a guy who then goes to play for Duke.) Personally, I virtually never watch college football, but if there was a player on the field who was a Redskins draftee, I would certainly turn on a game, if only to check him out and see how he's coming along.

The thing I don't understand is: Why the different rules for different sports? If a hockey player can get drafted by an NHL team and still play in college, why is the same not true of football and basketball? Doesn't the NCAA make the rules for all college sports, and, as such, shouldn't it be consistent across all of them? Am I just missing something that is completely obvious? If not, why hasn't anyone else thought of this?

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At 7:24 PM, Blogger DCSportsChick said...

Good point. At least the NHL has it right- let the kids get an education before shuffling off to the majors. Is there really such a need in the other leagues to get the kid in as soon as possible? We've seen how well that worked out- both with Kobe Bryant and Kwame Brown. Sadly, most turn out like the latter. Better to have the kids go to college and mature some more (both emotionally and talent-wise).


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