If they can fight in a war, they can play on the court

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Zion Williamson has officially declared for the NBA draft. In an unsurprising move, the best player in college basketball will enter the NBA after one season at Duke. Williamson will turn 19 in July, and he is following a trend that has become the norm. While most players still stay at the collegiate level for the normal four years, many of the top players in the country will only play one season before declaring for the draft. This is because of a rule in place in the NBA called the one and done rule which prohibits players under the age of 19 from entering the league, unless they have gone through one year of college. Over 50 players have chosen to leave college after one season since the rule was implemented in 2006, with some of the most notable being Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid. Who can blame them?

While college may present a valuable four years for development, it is also four years of being able to do nothing else. Obviously the athletes cannot accept any kind of money because the NCAA forbids it, but they also do not have the time to work or do anything outside of their sport. For Division I students, athletics occupies their entire life. They may be called student-athletes, but for the best of the best the word “student” could very well be dropped. The NBA, on the other hand, promises at the very least a sizable rookie contract that will offer most players at least a couple hundred thousand dollars. How is this even a choice? Some will say the rule is in place to protect athletes. Stories such as Taj McDavid certainly provide evidence for that claim, but players like those mentioned earlier — Durant and Irving — stand as perfect examples of why “player protection” can’t be the only reason. Obviously, money is a factor.

Spectators pay to watch these athletes perform, regardless of whether it is at the collegiate or professional level. If the best young players in the country began foregoing collegiate play and simply entering the draft after high school, the NCAA would experience significant profit losses. The University of Kentucky Wildcats would not have been anywhere close to the team they were when they won the final in 2012 without first year players Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquise Teague. The NBA needs to have a symbiotic relationship with the NCAA in order to maintain collegiate players entering the draft every year. Beyond that, making players wait a year only serves to build excitement for them to play professionally, leading to more viewership when they finally do make their NBA debut. Players risk ruining their careers every single day they play as unpaid, student athletes, and all for the benefit of an organization that only seeks to exploit these young athletes for profit. As Washington Wizards’ point guard John Wall said perfectly, “If someone feels like they’re ready enough, you give them a chance. You can pick the wrong college, too.”