- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Undefeated season? Check. Championships? Check. Awards? Check. History. Check, check, check. There's only one thing left for Maya Moore to do: Forgo her senior year, turn pro and start getting checks.
A person in the United States making $100,000 a year earns in the top 15th percentile. Someone making $200,000 is in the top 3 percent, and just 1.5 percent of people earn more than $250,000.
Needless to say, someone pulling six figures is doing all right.
After dragging the UConn Huskies to their second consecutive championship Tuesday, now is the time for Moore to start thinking about doing all right for herself. She can't get into the WNBA draft this year (it's Thursday), but she could head overseas and play for pay.
The top players in Europe get between $200,000 and $400,000 per season. Factor in endorsements -- Candace Parker is reportedly making $3 million from adidas and Gatorade -- and the numbers may not be NBA-like, but the 20-year-old Moore is still primed to make more than 99 percent of the people on the planet.
I know, I know-- it's strange to think of a woman leaving school early to go pro. May I suggest you get over it.
Though Parker graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2008, she still had a year of eligibility left because she redshirted her freshman year. Britany Miller left Florida State and played in the Czech Republic before the WNBA drafted her in 2009. Epiphanny Prince was a junior when she opted to leave Rutgers to play overseas last summer and is expected to be a high pick now that she's eligible.
I'm not saying this is a trend, but just as the Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings and high schooler Jeremy Tyler showed young male players that there are other options than a minimum stint in college for their basketball careers, it would be smart for talented female players to be open-minded as well. Three-time All Americans like Moore are not locked into returning to school to pad career stats and other people's pockets.
While winning another championship would be an incredible addition to Moore's résumé, I do wonder whether it's worth the risk. If UConn loses games or fails to three-peat, would that reflect poorly on her reputation to the casual fan? And what if she were to get hurt? Last year, the New York Times reported that marquee student-athletes such as Moore were able to buy up to $250,000 in an NCAA-endorsed insurance in the event they suffered a career-ending injury. By contrast, men could take out a $4.4 million policy.
I don't know about you, but if my daughter had just won her 78th consecutive game and had folks wondering whether she was the greatest ever, I'd be setting her up with Rosetta Stone and looking for her passport.
I understand the quality of the women's college game could suffer if the more talented players left school early. The men's game has already suffered, but draft restrictions on men are not as stringent, and that isn't fair. For all of the criticism the NBA receives for its age requirement, those bylaws are cake in comparison to what's required by the WNBA: Players must be at least 22, or four years out of high school, or a college graduate, or have completed their college eligibility. I'm not fully against those standards -- many careers require a college degree -- but imagine the uproar if David Stern tried to implement them.
Those rules come across to me as a mechanism solely designed to keep marquee names in college so big-money programs are not gutted annually by one-and-dones like those in the men's game. Again, I'm not saying such restrictions are inherently wrong, but in their current incarnation, the rules are clearly sexist. Let the rules be equal, let the individual decide, and let the individual deal with the fallout.
The message is men can stay one year before going pro, but women must stay four.
Players like Prince could leave early for Europe, of course, but their profile here in The States would suffer, as would the likelihood of landing any of the few sponsorship deals available for female athletes. So the choice is between making money in relative obscurity overseas or playing for free in somewhat of a spotlight at home. In the past, women have always chosen to stay home as long as they could. Prince and Miller may be signaling a change and hopefully spark a larger conversation in Stern's office about gender equity.
To be clear, the WNBA is no cash cow. The salary range for WNBA rookies drafted 1-4 is $44,064 in the first year and taps out at $56,182 in the fourth year of their contracts. The max any WNBA player can earn is $95,000, which again is not NBA money, but it is still pretty close to the top 15th percentile before making overseas money. That's not perfect but it's what women's basketball players have and so players like Moore should try to make as much money as they can, as soon as they can. Despite the WNBA's shortcomings -- there are moments when I look into the stands and wonder how it stays afloat (and yes, I love going to the games) -- it does allow outstanding players like Parker, and eventually Moore, to stay relevant here.
Look, if student-athletes want to stay in school and soak up the entire college experience, then by all means they should do so. But if they have a legitimate chance to be part of that 1 percent in terms of annual earnings by leaving early, well, they should have full access to that opportunity -- regardless of their gender.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.