Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dick Vitale: NBA Age Minimum is "Criminal"

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching the Kansas University Jayhawks play the Memphis Tigers on ESPN in an early season match-up of two of college basketball's perennial powerhouses.

Although I will probably forget the game itself in a few weeks, I will not forget the choice words of ESPN commentator Dick Vitale, czar of the college hoops telestrator. During a brief segue on the NBA on last night's telecast, Mr. Vitale became exercised (as he is so prone) and declared the NBA's age minimum as "criminal." Way to go, Dick!

Two things struck me about Mr. Vitale's comments.

First, although many of us at JPO [read: everyone except Bhel Atlantic] have been critical of the age minimum as bad policy, I was taken aback by Vitale's harsh condemnation of the rule as "criminal." Legally speaking, the NBA age minimum does not run afoul of any state or federal criminal laws. But I take Mr. Vitale's words to be an expression of the age minimum's moral repugnance -- i.e., morally, the age minimum is on par with a criminal act. Is it? Well, as explained in earlier posts, the age minimum prevents a hard-working young man -- often from an underprivileged background -- from making a living to support himself and his family, and forces him to instead toil for 1 or more years in indentured servitude enriching others but not getting paid a single cent.

The age minimum is also quintessentially un-American. The American ethos is that we all have a right to succeed -- especially if we can do it on our own. Ordinarily, we are told, "if you have the desire, the will and the means, go for it!" But with the age minimum, the NBA is saying that you have to help the NCAA and wealthy universities get richer before you can begin enriching yourself. So, yes, if I take Vitale's "criminal" to mean "morally repugnant," then yes, the age minimum is criminal.

Second, I was struck by Vitale's apparent selflessness. The NBA age minimum arguably benefits college hoops and, by extension, Dick Vitale. The age minimum forces NBA-ready high school talent to enroll in college, thereby benefiting the college game and all of those associated with it. So it was refreshing to see someone in the sports business take a stand on principle even if that principle might conflict with his economic interests ...

...But then I read a couple of articles authored by Dick Vitale: see here and here. It seems like part of Vitale's agenda is to improve the college game. Dick would like to see a "blue ribbon panel" evaluate the high-school talent and identify players who are NBA-ready. Those identified players would have the right to choose the NBA or college. All other players would be forced to attend college.

So at the end of the day, Dick's plan is even more constricting than the current NBA age minimum. Not only would a talented high school player need "permission" to enter the NBA, if he chose to enroll in college for 1 year, he had to make a 3-year commitment (i.e., he couldn't enter the NBA draft if he felt he were ready after 1 or 2 years).

Shame on you, Dick.


Bhel Atlantic said...

Despite his Detroit roots, I don't agree with Vitale's "blue ribbon panel" idea (seems like the criteria would be awfully elastic), but I don't think the age limit is "criminal" either. As I have said earlier, I support players being required to spend two years after high school apprenticing in college, D-League, or some foreign league before they are eligible to enter the NBA draft. Plenty of other professions require unpaid or low-pay internships in order to break into the mix. Or heck, if they need to support their families, they can work at Home Depot for a couple years. Nobody is entitled to millions of dollars. Blake Griffin grosses more in one pro season than I'll probably make in my whole life!

EarlDaGoat said...

Vitale is a lunatic.

H.O.S.S.'s post gives us yet another affirmation of this.

EarlDaGoat said...

I am nominating BA to replace Ken Feinberg, since he writes: "Nobody is entitled to millions of dollars."

If BA truly worships Lou Dobbs and is a card carrying conservative, as some of his posts might indicate, I would have thought the market would be the more apt to judge how much someone "deserves" to be paid, rather than some artificially induced shortage of the best players due to an age cap.

H.O.S.S. said...

Is Bhel Atlantic serious? Does he really think that forcing NBA-ready players to attend college is akin to a medical school residency or a carpentry apprenticeship?

He fails to appreciate that in those professions, the residency/apprenticeship is a NECESSARY part of the training. Was LeBron really in need of an apprenticeship under Roy Williams or Bill Self before going to the NBA?

"Blake Griffin grosses more in one pro season than I'll probably make in my whole life!" How is this relevant? If he makes more than you it's because he is freakishly talented at what he does and the market values his particular talent.

Justin said...

At the 2009 Sports Management Conference in Toronto, I spoke with the Associate Counsel of the NBA Players Association, Ron Klempner. He made it clear that the Players Association is strongly against increasing the age minimum, but may have to agree to it in order to uphold higher priority issues in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011.

Bhel Atlantic said...

Apparently my colleague Ayn "HOSS" Rand sees no value in letting folks sweat a little and prove their worth before the untrammelled, jungly market rewards them for winning the genetic lottery.

Oh, and as for Earl's comparing me to Lou Dobbs: First, do not attempt to impute some pre-fabbed conservative orthodoxy to me. My views are my own. Dobbs himself is quite eclectic in his opinions (though I am not attempting to imply that I agree with him).