Commentary

Sticking point

Hoops should borrow a page from hockey and let freedom reign

Updated: May 7, 2012, 10:32 AM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Numbers Illustration (Money Issue) Illustration by DogoThe one-and-done rule isn't just bad for the NBA, it's bad for the talent, writes Peter Keating.

WHEN ALL FIVE Kentucky Wildcats starters -- three freshmen and two sophomores -- declared on April 17 that they would enter the NBA draft, they added accelerant to the burning debate over the game's one-and-done rule. On one side are the purists who hate to see players, coaches and agents treat the campus experience as a truck stop. Says Bob Knight: "It's a disgrace." On the other side are the realists who ask why any 19-year-old who can turn his talent into millions of dollars shouldn't. Says John Calipari: "I could bulldoze them, brainwash them and make them stay. I will never do it. Because I wouldn't want my son treated that way."

In this debate between the purists and realists, there's a solution that will make both sides happy. It's called the NHL draft.

Hockey has a universal draft, meaning NHL teams can pick any athlete who meets the league's criteria for eligibility -- anybody anywhere who's 18 to 20 and who hasn't already been picked or played in the league. A candidate does not have to declare for the draft, and if he's in college when he's chosen, the team that drafted him retains his rights throughout his NCAA career whether he stays for one day or four years. The system works beautifully because many athletes like getting an education while they develop on the ice: In the 2011-12 season alone, 202 draft picks played college hockey in the U.S., from Dartmouth's Troy Mattila (a seventh-round pick by the Islanders in 2006) to Miami of Ohio's Tyler Biggs (a first-round pick by the Maple Leafs in 2011).


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Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.