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Economic freedom and the draft

The Clarett v. NFL case challenging draft restrictions has brought more than its share of untutored commentary. But lo, I've encountered a writer who actually considers evidence on such matters! Steve Wilstein's article on MSNBC discusses research by visiting scholar Michael McCann of Harvard Law School, which examines the fate of high school ballplayers who enter the NBA draft.

McCann studied the 29 high school players who declared for the NBA draft and signed with agents between 1975 and 2003. Among those, nine would be considered superstars (one of the NBA’s best 15 players during their careers) or stars (the best or second-best player on his team).

Those include Darryl Dawkins, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James.

Of the 29, only three — Taj McDavid, Ellis Richardson, Tony Key — were busts as ballplayers, unable to sustain a living from the game.

The rest were either serviceable players regularly contributing to an NBA team, fringe players earning a very good living but getting few minutes, minor leaguers playing in the United States or abroad, or still unproven young players hampered by injuries.

Of particular interest is the following observation:

McCann said, “over 80 percent of drafted high school players became or will become multimillionaires by the age of 21” and “maximized their earning potential by gaining the ability to become unrestricted free agents ... by the tender age of 22.”

At that age, the players who stayed in college for four years become bound by the nearly nonnegotiable rookie salary scale for three to five years.

“Most players who skip college may earn as much as $100 million more over the course of their careers than if they had done the ’smart thing’ and earned a college diploma.”

It appears that the opportunity cost of playing for free at State U is quite large for some people. What would you advise them to do?