ACC commissioner John Swofford talks about the issues facing college athletics in a question and answer session during the ACC men's basketball media day in Charlotte, NC Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. ACC
ACC commissioner John Swofford talks about the issues facing college athletics in a question and answer session during the ACC men's basketball media day in Charlotte, NC Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. ACC

Luke DeCock

Hockey has the answer to basketball’s one-and-done problem

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

October 25, 2017 05:56 PM

UPDATED October 25, 2017 07:10 PM

CHARLOTTE

While everyone at ACC media day from the commissioner to the coaches seemed preoccupied with fixing what’s wrong with college basketball in the wake of the FBI investigation, no one seems to have any answers.

That’s partly because dealing with these issues is going to involve examining the heart of the NCAA’s “collegiate model” which it has spent millions of dollars defending in court, and only seems to significantly change when lawsuits are involved.

But there is one relatively easy fix that could be phased in over the next few years without too much trouble or turmoil. Everyone from NBA commissioner Adam Silver on down seems to agree that the current “one-and-done” model is not good for anyone, but no one seems to have a good idea for fixing it.

ACC commissioner John Swofford specifically mentioned the baseball model – turn pro out of high school or attend a minimum of three years of college – as one possibility, although it’s hard to imagine anyone agreeing to a model where basketball players are compelled to stay in school the way baseball players are.

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“Even our baseball coaches hate it,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

The answer, or at least the template for whatever basketball ends up doing going forward, is the hockey model. The NHL and NHLPA stumbled across this years ago, and it ended up working out for everyone. There are a couple of caveats: Canada’s junior hockey leagues provide a semi-pro development system for players who aren’t interested in college, which basketball lacks. But the hockey system does a good job of balancing the interests of junior players, college players and European players in a way that basketball should try to emulate.

Duke freshman Gary Trent, Jr. (2) moves the ball around the White team's defense during the Blue Devils Blue-White game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham on October 20, 2017.
Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

Basically, all players are drafted as 18-year-olds. If they choose to play NCAA hockey, the NHL team that drafted them holds their rights until three months after they graduate. They can retain an agent as an “adviser” and sign with their NHL team at 18 or at any point in their college career, or wait it out and become a free agent.

When a player turns pro becomes a collaborative decision (and, to be sure, a negotiation) between player and NHL team, but there’s no zero-sum college/pro decision to be made.

So a player like Harry Giles might have been the first or second overall pick in his age group at 18. He would have the option to turn pro immediately. Or, because of his injury issues, he could stay at Duke as long as he needs to be prepared for the NBA. Which means he’d probably be playing at Duke this season. Maybe Luke Kennard, too.

A player who might be a second-round pick at 18 could play his way into first-round money over the next few years. The NBA would have to abandon slotted salaries based on draft position and expand the draft by a few rounds to cast a bigger net, but it would benefit individual franchises by giving them more control over the flow of talent onto their rosters.

No one would be forced to go to college. Players would turn pro when it makes sense for them, without gambling on their draft position at the cost of their college eligibility. And we know it can work under NCAA rules because it’s already in place for another sport.

“Let’s take a look at that,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

There’s the solution, or at least the start of one. It’s just a question of finding the political will and common ground between the NCAA, NBA and NBPA to get it done.

“We should investigate all of that,” Krzyzewski said. “We should come up with our own damn model. We should do it now. What are we waiting for?”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserer.com, @LukeDeCock