Does age matter?

Apparently in the NFL and NBA it does!

Do not contact until 1 yr removed from high school!

Yesterday in Professor McCann’s Sports Law Seminar, the class discussed the imposition of age limits on both the professional basketball and football leagues. Why might the NBA and the NFL have such age limits, but the MLB and other professional sports do not?

Several explanations were passed around the class and the following were some of the more plausible reasons.  Perhaps the league is interested in protecting their athletes physically. It might not be in the best interest of a “high school” player to drive down the lane with Shaq standing in their way. But what about players like KG, Kobe, Lebron, and T-Mac, all of which had clearly eaten their Wheaties? And why did the NBA all of a sudden change their age limit in 2006? Perhaps these sports are predominately comprised of star African-Americans, and race is the guiding the policy. Or perhaps these are the only two sports which have proven to be profitable for Colleges and Universities. How else will these institutions cash in on the “Flutie affect” and fund their other programs. Additionally, the NBA and the NFL do not have well developed and respected minor league systems. (Perhaps someone wants to argue the D-League is “developed”, but i am certain it pails in comparison to the minor league structure in baseball).

One thing is certain, OJ Mayo was born a year too late. As many of the readers may know, OJ Mayo never really intended to stay at USC. It was well know he was going to be one-and-done. OJ Mayo attended USC because he was prohibited by the age limits imposed on athletes hoping to enter the NBA. It is also alleged that while at USC Mayo accepted money from agents who were hoping to snag him as a client, although Mayo and his confidants adamantly reject these claims. If such allegations were true he would have ruined his eligibility as an amateur athlete. But who cares, he did not intend to nor want to play in college, the rules almost required him.

OJ Mayo

Where was OJ Mayo’s interest when NBA and the Players Union bargained for the age limits to be imposed? I am fairly certain the OJ Mayo’s, Brandon Jennings’, and Renardo Sidney’s were absent from the bargaining table when this was agreed upon.

Brandon Jennings

How should the NCAA react to the NBA and NFL’s misgivings about age. Perhaps answering the critic’s questions would be a good start. But beside just answering questions, perhaps their is more the NCAA can do. Prof. McCann suggests some ways in which college sports can be cleaned up. First the NCAA can spend its resources in discovering under-the-table payments to college athletes. Second, the NCAA should enforce its already existing rules regarding such payments. Currently the rules have no teeth. The Reggie Bush incident has drawn on for years and Bush is long gone. Third, college athletes should receive increased payments. A scholarship is not enough, incidentals should also be covered. White v. NCAA could be a move in the right direction. Fourth, the NCAA could open up college athletes to the free-market. However, this would have negative impacts on Title IV and the NCAA would lose its tax exemption status. Fifth and finally, college athletes could be opened up to the international market. The international market has been opened up to certain athletes, but restrictions are still in place.

3 Responses to “Does age matter?”
  1. Zak Kurtz says:

    The most recent Andy Oliver decision in the Ohio courts is a great example of how the NCAA is giving athletes more leeway.

    I believe that the Brandon Jennings experiment showed that athletes need to stay at home domestically in the USA and play college ball until the one and done rule is abolished. International stardom maybe a nice idea for older NBA players looking to gain financially but it appears that it is a lot tougher for younger players looking to head back to the NBA. But will the NBA recognize this and adjust its age limits pre- 2006?

  2. Avi Kushlan says:

    One important aspect of OJ Mayo’s career that you overlook is that he was 20 years old during his time at USC. His “advanced” age gave him a physical and mental advantage compared to other freshman players. He must have also carried the concern that delaying the start of his NBA career would have put him at a disadvantage against players who were younger and shared the same amount of college experience. But for individuals who would enter the NBA directly out of high school, the college experience provides an intermediate step in terms of skill and the demands of increasing exposure. Only the MLB minor league system offers a similar experience where the demand is increased gradually, and thus it protects itself against issues that an age limit would counter. I would argue therefore, that the age limit is simply an insurance policy for the teams that would dole out millions of dollars on otherwise unproven talent. But perhaps for OJ and other players of his ilk, the most important consideration was the one I address below.

    The second issue you raise in this post is the question of payments to student-athletes, something that has been going on under the table for years, but has seen increased exposure given the recent scandals you mention. The increased exposure the players get in college is good for all the parties involved, and there is no reason the players shouldn’t see a profit as a result. The players themselves are rewarded through greater endorsement deals and an established, dedicated fan base that they carry throughout their pro careers. For the colleges this means increased interest, which results in greater ticket sales and a large boost in merchandise sales. The NBA teams that draft highly developed players, both in terms of talent and marketability, see a similar boost in their bottom line as a result. Allowing players to leave for teams overseas only serves to diminish their earning potential. It would seem that the current rules are not realistically unenforceable as the number of cases that slip by the radar is becoming more and more apparent. Obviously allowing players to be paid would result in an imbalance between those programs that see a profit and those that do not. Keeping that in mind, do you support college athletes being rewarded above and beyond covering their expenses (including ones not currently covered by scholarships)? In effect aren’t schools already “purchasing” players through the construction of better facilities, and more expensive student-athlete support programs? Where should the line be placed between what is considered legal aid and what is considered a breach of rules or ethics?

  3. wrothstein says:


    Thank you for the thoughtful response. One thing I don’t think I agree with is that the college scheme is fully beneficial for all the parties involved.

    Although “…the colleges [receive] increased interest, which results in greater ticket sales and a large boost in merchandise sales.” The players do not cash in on their impact to the universities until they have entered the pro-level. Therefore, someone like OJ Mayo who did not want to attend college was forced to give up his earning potential for a year to play at the amateur level. He was unable receive endorsement contracts and a salary comparable to those other rookies in the NBA. I do however agree with your point that the NCAA does provide increased exposure to athletes. This is something the D-League and the international arena do not provide. Therefore since the NCAA provides the “best” outcome for many, the fact that these under-the-table and illegal payments occur, a cleaning process is needed for the current structure.

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