NBA legend (and logo) Jerry West recently did an interview on ESPN Radio during which he skewered the quality of play around the league.
"This is the weakest I've ever seen this league. The weakest. And we are depending on people who go to school for a year to come in and change the fortunes of a franchise. Rarely does that ever happen. And everyone is talking about an incredible draft this year, I think it's just the opposite. I think it's a poor one, myself. There will be prospects there, but these franchises that have really struggled -- at one time you could get a branded name. These kids are not branded today. They're not branded, and by that, I mean those kids that played at their school for four or five years, or three years and comes out and people know who he is. He's tutored, he's more mature and more experienced. Those kind of players make an impact right away. But if you look at some of these kids, it takes about three years for them to get going. For a team that's really struggling, you're telling your fans 'this player is going to make us better,' but most of the time that does not happen today."
West isn't the only legendary player who has sounded off recently. Charles Barkley, a Hall of Famer and current TNT analyst, had similar thoughts when he appeared on The Dan Bickley Show with Vince Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM in January.
"The NBA sucks right now," he said. "I mean, I get paid to watch these games and I actually have to sit down and study the games to see two quality teams play. It's embarrassing for me to watch, I feel bad for the fans."
Critics like West and Barkley continually point to the eligibility rules of the NBA Draft which allow a player to go pro as long he's 19 years old and one year removed from high school. This has led to the growth of 'one-and-done' players in college hoops -- players who enroll, play one season and then bolt for the riches of the NBA. The problem is, to West's point, these players aren't ready to contribute to NBA teams in most cases, creating a subculture of 19-year-old multi-millionaires who mostly wear sweats and sit in folding chairs on game day.
It's not just the NBA that the experts are ripping. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has been critical of the game he loves, as well. Here's how Bilas started an article he penned last October about how to fix college hoops:
College basketball is a great game, but it has been slowly declining over the last several seasons, for a variety of reasons. Don't be fooled by a terrific and aesthetically pleasing NCAA championship game between Louisville and Michigan, or get distracted by the billions of dollars being generated off the game. The quality of play simply isn't keeping pace with the quality of players and coaches in the game.
So as a basketball fan, I'm to believe that the NBA is terrible and college basketball isn't what it once was -- that's what the experts are saying.
I've got a solution.
Doesn't it make perfect sense for college basketball to adopt the rule book of the NBA? Why does a college team get :35 to shoot while a pro team gets only :24? Why does a college game last 40 minutes, while an NBA game goes 48? Why does Joey College get three points for a shot he hits from 19 feet, 9 inches, but the same shot is only worth two at the next level? It's ostensibly the same game, right? So why the massive difference in rules?
If college basketball is the premier breeding ground for the pros, why are they playing a different game?
Lengthening the college game and shortening the shot clock would lead to more points. Fans like more points. Why do you think college football is growing in popularity every year? The advent of the spread offense has created an entertaining product for fans all over the country to enjoy.
Over ten percent of the 345 Division I teams are averaging under 65 points per game. The nation's lowest-scoring team, New Hampshire, is averaging 19 made baskets per game. Boring.
By becoming a carbon copy of the NBA, college basketball would actually train players for a career at the next level. Crazy thought, I know.
But Vince, what about those players who aren't going pro? Well, they'll get to play a more entertaining form of the game before joining all us saps in the real world.
Of course, these style changes alone won't lead to better college and pro basketball. Like many have suggested, eligibility rules need more than a minor tweak, too. If a player signs a letter of intent to play college basketball, get comfortable. Ideally, he'd have to spend three years in the college ranks before going pro. At the end of the third year (either junior or redshirt sophomore season), the player is eligible for the draft. If he's not selected or doesn't like where he was picked, he can head back to college and re-enter the draft after his final year of eligiblity, very similar to the rules in place in Major League Baseball.
Just picture it -- college players playing the NBA game for a minimum of three seasons. That leads to better college hoops and better-prepared players a the pro level.