Commentary

NBA's age restriction won't change

Arne Duncan's speech was great, but expect status quo from NBA, NCAA

Updated: January 18, 2010, 4:44 PM ET
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

Finally! (And it took the U.S. Education Secretary to finally say something.)

When the NBA instituted its age restriction as part of the league's collective bargaining agreement in 2005, a lot of people in power were mumbling under their breath behind sealed and locked doors. They knew what they wanted to say, knew how they felt, but for the sake of job security and to avoid career suicide, they decided to stay quiet.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jennings
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrandon Jennings found his way to the NBA without a year in college. Don't expect the rules to change any time soon, though.

But then along came a man named Arne Duncan. He, fed up with the façade as to what is in the best interest of the sport that the NBA and NCAA have been passing off on us, ripped into the present state of the purgatory that exists between a kid's exit from high school and his entrance into the NBA (players must be 19 years old and one year out of school before they are eligible for the draft).

He called the NBA's age rule a "farce." He said it was "intellectually dishonest." In a room full of university presidents, athletic directors and NCAA hierarchy, he went Conan O'Brien on them, letting them know that he knows B.S. when he can smell it.

He took some indirect shots at NBA commissioner David Stern and a less indirect jab at, say, Kentucky coach John Calipari. (Or coaches who "run a program into the ground, get in trouble, but bounce to the next institution, [and] they leave chaos and disarray in their wake but move on often at a much higher salary.")

One of his beefs: the "one-and-done" epidemic.

"The pace has gotten out of control," Duncan said. "We have universities [recruiting] eighth-graders to college."

He was even thorough enough to remind (I say "remind" because everyone in attendance already knew this) those in the room that one-quarter of the teams in last year's NCAA basketball tournament had graduated fewer than 40 percent of their players.

Arne Duncan brilliantly attempted in his keynote speech at the NCAA convention on Thursday in Atlanta to make everyone who was a part of construction of the "age limit" rule, and anyone not doing his part to educate intercollegiate athletes while they are under scholarship, feel like a penny waiting on some change.

My question: What's going to change?

Will an impassioned speech by one of the country's top appointed government officials change anything in pro basketball's dysfunctional marriage to college academics? Will Duncan's words make the NBA and/or the NCAA think differently?

Because the beauty in what Stern and now interim NCAA president Jim Isch have in place is that they have something that is an easy sell to an easily seduced, stand-for-nothing-fall-for-anything audience. Sure, there will be the Brandon Jenningses of the world who will buck the system and defy the odds, but for the most part, everyone continues to see and believe that in its current state, the game is fine.

"Leave it as is," they'll say. "If it ain't broke ... "

But here's the truth: Although the game may be fine, its infrastructure is severely damaged. Some of the principles and procedures are as flawed as the face of a patient on "Nip/Tuck." (Note: The dress code still didn't stop refs from being connected to the mob or players from bringing guns to work.)

Nothing done on the league's or NCAA's end has been done in malice or with malicious intent to degrade the product or the players. At the same time, nothing is being done to make the situation better than what it is.

Duncan knows that. So do you. So do I. But he was the one man enough to finally speak truth to power.

Higher education on the whole is a problem within itself. It's not just athletics. Last year, the American Enterprise Institute released a report indicating that nationally, only 53 percent of students who enter four-year universities and colleges graduate within six years. So it's not just basketball at the higher level that has a problem.

Like the Gang Starr classic asks, "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?"

The answer to that can be found in the next few days, weeks, months and years, as no one (I repeat, NO ONE, not even the NBA players' union when the CBA expires in 2011) will follow Duncan's lead.

What should be a rallying cry, a call to arms that initiates a faction to ignite some change, will remain stuck in its own moment. Just a courageous yet meaningless speech given to a room full of dignitaries who seem to be too comfortable with leaving "the agreement" between the NCAA and NBA as is.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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