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On youth, the draft, and quality of play

Yesterday's economic view suggested that the NFL's position on the "tragic consequences" of drafting 20 year old players made no economic sense. Over on the law side of the sports world, Greg Skidmore takes another run at the issue. Greg concedes on tragic consequences, and turns to the larger issue (I'm paraphrasing here) of what set of rules maximizes the value of the league to consumers. This is a good place to take the argument, but he offers up the wrong reason.

Greg argues that allowing underclassmen to enter the draft will be bad for football, and points to a perceived decline in the quality of play in the NBA.

There are a number of people, myself included, that think the quality of play in the NBA has been degraded substantially in the past 15-20 years. Is this because of the influx of players with little or no college experience?

This seems to be a chicken and egg problem. It seems that the trend in the NBA today is for an individualized, one-on-one approach, with less emphasis on teamwork, passing, etc. So many times, a guy will bring the ball up the court, pass to the star, who takes his man one-on-one off the dribble while everyone else stands around and watches. The focus in the NBA is on the "star," the player(s) on each team who has free reign to throw up as many shots as he wants.

In my view, this has nothing to do with youth in the league. Let me toss in two points (T me up!) on the decline, if you want to call it that, in basketball. Ages ago, David Stern and the NBA made a conscious decision to market the league by focusing the action on its stars. The prohibition of the zone defense was instrumental here, and led to clearout plays with 8 men standing on one side of the court, with one on one action on the other. It worked marvelously for a decade. Second, the decline is equally visible in college basketball. The game in both college and the NBA is more physical than it was twenty years ago. The interpretation of the rules, for example, allows for more aggressive defense. From this perspective, it is no mystery why scoring is down. At times, the physical nature of modern basketball is a thing of beauty, and we get to observe the spectacular. But the physical, athletic nature of the game has displaced elements of teamwork and skill that we also value.

My view is that deliberate tweaking of the rules, coupled with the development of more physical players like we have seen in all sports, is responsible for changes in the nature of play in basketball over the years. The "youth movement" has nothing to do with it. Spencer Haywood, you're off the hook.

P.S. Greg's take on what adding the 5th BCS bowl implies is insightful. Recommended.