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May 29, 2009

Derrick Rose and the Age Limit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 8:06 pm

On the surface, the allegations against Memphis stemming from Derrick Rose‘s high-school transcripts/SAT results have nothing to do with the NBA. After all, it’s the Tigers that are being investigated, not Rose per se. Unraveling the story a layer, however, suggests that this is another bit of ammo in the debate about the age limit. As I discussed with Bethlehem Shoals and Dan Filowitz on today’s edition of Free Darko Presents: The Disciples of Clyde Podcast, this scandal may well never have happened if not for the age limit.

Through 2005, qualifying for the NCAA was no big deal for elite prospects. If they did reach the necessary combination of high school GPA and SAT score, they would have a choice to make. If not, it was off to the NBA. With the NBA route no longer available, the options of players like Rose are much more limited. Brandon Jennings (who, like Rose, failed to qualify) has shown that there is a third path in Europe and I suppose Rose could have chosen to go to a prep school for a year before entering the draft. However, neither of these alternatives are for everyone, and it’s easy to see how Rose (and his crew) might have felt they were almost forced to do whatever it took to become eligible, legal or otherwise.

So far, the one-and-done era has been a mixed blessing for the NCAA. Obviously, the college game has benefited on the floor from the presence of superstars like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and (yes) Rose, if only for a single season. However, two of the highest-profile NCAA investigations in the last year have involved Rose and O.J. Mayo, two players who likely would not have ever set foot on a college campus if not for the age limit.

Of course, as our John Gasaway noted in last year’s College Basketball Prospectus, the NCAA really has no say in how the NBA determines its eligibility, so it has little control other than to investigate these situations after the fact and try to deter colleges from skirting or breaking the rules. The question is really how well the age limit is working for the NBA, and so far it has been a qualified success. The hype around Durant and Oden never would have reached the heights it did without their seasons in college, giving the NBA tremendous free marketing. At first, there appeared to be little downside. Now, the equation is changing slightly. If players like Mayo and Rose see their reputations tarnished by violations related solely to their college eligibility, the age limit could end up backfiring on the NBA.

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