Sports World Silent on Elite Talent Rejecting College

There was little to no surprise in the Major League Baseball Draft last week when high school phenom Hunter Greene was selected second overall by the Cincinnati Reds. Greene is so wildly talented that he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a couple of months ago despite only being 17 years old. His fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour. He is said to have hit balls up to 450 feet in batting practice.

As a result of entering the draft, Greene will not be playing baseball in any capacity at the collegiate level. According to the Sports Illustrated article, he was offered scholarships to both UCLA and USC when he was just 14. Yet he will never play for them or any other college team. Knowing he would be drafted as highly as he was, this decision seems to make sense.

But what has been the reaction from the sports media and sports fans throughout the country as a result of Greene’s opting to forgo college and pursue a professional baseball career? Has there been a national hand wringing and asking of why Greene would choose against college? Is there a lamenting of how college baseball’s quality will suffer as a result of not having someone of Greene’s talent there to make those baseball games better and more entertaining? Is there a clamoring for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to “do something” with regard to keeping players from going to the professional level too soon and making them more likely to go to college and stay there longer?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.” Sports fans who know who Greene is are largely not bothered by the fact that he won’t be playing college baseball. There is no effort that I am aware of to raise MLB’s age limit in order to get players of Greene’s caliber to play collegiately. There is virtually no lamenting over how the level of play in college baseball is hurt by Greene (and other high schoolers like him) opting to enter the draft instead.

Contrast this attitude with what we hear about college basketball seemingly every year. Sports fans and talking heads all over the country can’t stop complaining about how the “one and done rule” (the stipulation that basketball players entering the NBA Draft must be one year out of high school and be at least 19 years old) is ruining the college game. Many fans desperately want elite players to stay at their universities longer in order to improve the sport’s quality. There has recently been talk about raising the age limit even higher.

So why is there such a contrast in the desire to see elite athletes to play at the college level in one sport but not another? Well, take a look at the interest level and attention paid to college basketball versus college baseball. March Madness captivates the nation every year for about three weeks to the point that there are even medical procedures scheduled so that people can watch more of it. Whereas college baseball is barely a blip on the radar for most American sports fans. Seriously, how many people even know that the College World Series is currently entering its final two weeks?

If this seems a bit unfair, there’s a good reason. Simply because of people’s personal sports preferences, athletes coming out of high school in baseball and basketball who would easily be signed to a professional contract are treated in vastly different ways. Hopefully one day the sports world can put aside their individual tastes and allow elite basketball players coming out of high school the same freedom to professionally contract that their baseball counterparts of the same age enjoy. Let’s all hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Ben Simmons Going Number One Shows Absurdity of NBA Age Limit

The NBA’s much anticipated draft night has come and gone. The annual event often provides plenty of surprise and debate over the order of the draftees. But what was certainly not a surprise was the Philadelphia 76ers using their number one overall pick to draft LSU’s Ben Simmons. Not only was Simmons often called the best NBA prospect, but Philadelphia allegedly informed him that they were going to take him with the draft’s top selection.

Simmons ascending to the top draft spot was certainly not unexpected. Even prior to the 2015-2016 college basketball season, many identified him as the year’s most promising choice. He’s been described as having point guard skills in a 6′ 10″ in body. Combine this with his speed and leaping ability and it isn’t hard to see why the NBA’s lottery teams were put on notice all year of the things that he was able to do on the court.

What has become apparent about Simmons’ lone year he played in college is how insignificant it was to his development as a player. If anyone in the NBA didn’t know about his superior skills before the start of the college basketball season, they didn’t have to wait long for those skills to be fully displayed. Certainly Simmons did not need the entire college basketball season to prove that he deserved to be the draft’s number one overall pick. Yet the freshman phenome continued to play throughout the rest of the regular season while putting his body at risk for no salary.

What made Simmons’ case somewhat unusual was that he did not play on an elite or even good team during his one and only year in college. LSU’s basketball team was so bad during the 2015-2016 season that they didn’t even make the 64 team NCAA tournament despite Simmons’ greatness. This is an especially unusual occurrence for such a high profile player considering that they usually gravitate toward the country’s best programs. But this inability to get his team to The Big Dance was apparently not enough to deter the 76ers from making him their selection.

As inconsequential as Simmons’ freshman year at LSU seemed to be, what came off looking even more worthless was the academic undertaking that he experienced at the university. Whereas the actual intelligence of the Tigers’ big man cannot be known, he appeared to be mostly disinterested in furthering any kind of education while at the school. Academics were so ignored by Simmons that he was initially benched by his head coach for most of the first half of a game against Tennessee. At the end of the regular season, it was revealed that he was not eligible for the Wooden Award (given each year to the most outstanding men’s and women’s college basketball player) because he did not meet the minimum requirement of having a 2.0 GPA.

One could make the case that Simmons should have applied himself more on the academic end so that his team would not be hurt by his being benched for nearly a half and so he would be at least eligible for college basketball’s top regular season award. But why was someone like Simmons who was so uninterested in furthering his education put into college in the first place when he has a separate skill (playing basketball) that he did so well? The answer to this question comes in the form of the NBA’s age limit that went into effect before their 2006 draft. As a result of this rule, players no longer could jump directly from high school to the NBA since the age limit said all draftees must be 19 years old and be at least one year out of high school.

If any recent NBA Draft selection demonstrated the absurdity of the league’s age limit, it would be Simmons. Here we have someone who barely even needed college basketball to demonstrate his skills, played on an average team and didn’t benefit from the opportunity to further his education in the slightest. But despite his academic struggles and his team’s mediocrity, Simmons still became the draft’s top pick. Now he will finally get paid for the considerable skills that he has for what he does best.

So what is the solution to avoid a situation like Simmons’ in the future? The NBA should remove its age limit and start developing young players in the Developmental League (D-League) if they aren’t yet ready to play professionally. This way, NBA ready high schoolers who have no interest in furthering their education (like Simmons) could focus more on what is most likely to be their career. If this sounds extreme or unworkable, consider that Major League Baseball does virtually the same thing by drafting players of different ages (including out of high school) and placing them into a minor league system. The NBA would be wise, not to mention fair, to allow promising high school stars the same opportunity that MLB provides. Sadly, this is currently not the case.