Crittenton highlights need for reform

To an NBA or general sports fan, the news that Javaris Crittenton was charged with murder and eventually arrested may not have been a total surprise. After all, Crittenton did little of note as a reserve guard for three years in the league—but he was involved in that infamous gun-related locker room confrontation with then-Washington Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas in 2009.

To a Tech fan, it was just the latest misstep in the career of a promising player who left the school to cash in on his NBA potential before he was ready.  The sad part is that because he is a former Tech athlete, every mistake Crittenton has made—both on and off the court—has on some level been an indictment of Tech as well, even though he only spent one year on campus.

There are plenty of reasons to complain about college basketball’s one-and-done system, most of which have to do with the quality and health of the college and professional games. Crittenton’s arrest highlights another issue: when one-and-done players depart for the pro ranks, their colleges remain responsible for their actions.

Maybe schools deserve whatever ramifications result from relying on one-and-done players. After all, every recent NCAA champion won by relying primarily on seasoned players rather than freshmen. The fact remains, though, that bringing in a top-notch recruit provides a major boost that the vast majority of teams find hard to resist. Tech is certainly not immune to this.

The simple fact is that the NBA’s age rule allows the game’s best players to hold college basketball hostage. It’s not the players’ fault—they’re just taking advantage of a system that allows them to gain national exposure for a year and (if they so choose) make a mockery of the term “student-athlete.”

But even the players suffer in the end. Because top players at big-name programs are often treated like royalty while they’re in college and never have to take responsibility for their actions while in school, they are hardly prepared to have to take care of themselves in the professional ranks. Many turn out fine in the end, but an all-too-significant number of others, such as Crittenton, fall through the cracks.

Put simply, it’s not a good setup for anyone. The decision to impose the age limit in 2005 was a band-aid on a much larger problem, if that. It did little to combat the NBA’s complaint that incoming players were too raw, and it provided an incentive for corruption to increase within college basketball, a sport that already struggles plenty with that issue.

There is talk that when the NBA and the players association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (whenever that is), it will include a higher age limit of 20 or perhaps 21. While a higher age limit makes sense on several levels, that change alone would cause even greater problems for college basketball in a time when the issue of paying players is heating up.

Unlike in football, a good number of basketball players are relatively prepared to jump to the professional ranks right away. The NCAA should look to college baseball’s model for inspiration here, and this is where the NBA’s Development League can come into play—but only with some reform and expansion.

If a higher age limit is instituted, the NBA should actively promote the D-League as an alternate option that allows players to earn salaries and, arguably more importantly, endorsement deals right out of high school. This will offer NBA-ready players an opportunity to earn good money right away, and other players will have the option of choosing between a moderate paycheck and a free education.

The NBA can also look to use the D-League as a true training ground off-the-court endeavors. The NFL’s money management class at its annual rookie symposium comes to mind as an example of a program that can be instituted for D-League players, helping to instruct them on critical skills to make up for the college education they are not receiving (but may well have ignored anyway).

Maybe Javaris Crittenton received all the support he needed and simply ignored it. More likely, though, is that he dove into a fairly dangerous world before he was ready and never had the skills or knowledge he needed to save himself. Either way, it doesn’t take much effort to see that his case is yet another sign that college basketball is in need of significant reform—and that reform needs to happen quickly before many more such cases arise.

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