The NBA's One-and-Done Rule

Should aspiring players be forced to go to college?


The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), most recently revised in 2011, requires prospective players to be at least nineteen years of age in order to be eligible for the draft, prohibiting them from playing in the NBA directly after high school. The age restrictions, which have been in effect since 2005, have created a new culture consisting of “one and done” players, those who attend colleges for one year and before entering the draft. The CBA has led to a plethora of social and ethical issues for both the athletes themselves in addition to other college applicants and students.

To begin, let's focus on the players themselves. Watch the following video from a popular ESPN sports debate show, First Take. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless discuss whether or not the rule is reasonable. Pay particular attention to how it is unfair for the NBA to deprive players of the opportunity to make a living by delaying their progress. Society doesn't prevent eighteen year-olds from working for money, so why should the NBA?

Should NBA Change One And Done Rule?
Prior to 2005, players were allowed to declare for the draft immediately after high school. Some of these players have gone on to experience exceptional, legendary careers, including household names such as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. With the new rule in place, the NBA is denying high school players with similar talent the same freedoms of choice and opportunity that many others have enjoyed in the past.

The NBA believes that it is helping players develop more in order to prepare for basketball at a professional level. Sure, it is true that for all the great players who have come straight from high school, there have been some disappointments. However, since the age minimum was implemented, many players are only going to college for one or two years. Therefore, there are still plenty of draft busts (players who do not meet expectations), so these players are not any more ready than they would be after high school. Since there has been no reduced risk of drafting poorly, this rule has not improved the league.

Impact on Colleges and Other Students

Watch the following Powtoon on how the actions of both the NBA and college athletes are unfair to other students that actually want to get the most out of the college experience.
Christian Ethics Capstone Project
After watching the Powtoon, ask yourself whether or not it is fair for colleges to hand out athletic scholarships to kids that have no intention of graduating.

Imagine being in college and seeing athletes getting A's and B's in classes that they do not ever have to put any effort into. Meanwhile, you are working extremely hard in your classes to earn similar grades. How would this sort of special treatment make you feel?

Other Perspectives and Potential Solutions

Below are some other views on the rule and how to fix it. It is clear that most if not all coaches and commissioners agree that the rule should be changed:

Washington Post writer John Feinstein: “The one-and-dones don’t go to college. They represent a college.”

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby: "The NFL and NBA have been irresponsible in not providing other legitimate opportunities for kids that really don't want to go to college... they need to have some legitimate developmental program to allow people who don't want to go to college to go develop their skills."

  • Bowlsby is urging the professional leagues to improve their development leagues so that uninterested players wouldn't be forced to attend colleges. Instead, they would play in the minor league for one year before becoming eligible for the draft. One example is the NBA D-League. It holds very little prestige and salaries are too low (about $30,000 per season). By building a true minor league, the NBA would be benefiting all parties, so it is time for them to make this improvement.

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino wants to change the rule: “It’s not about education. It’s not a good system.”

  • Even a legendary college coach agrees that the rule should be changed. Pitino has coached two national championship teams, but he still feels that education should be the main focus in colleges rather than athletics.

San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher offers a simpler approach: “I think if you’re talented enough and somebody’s coming and saying we want you and we will pay you millions to have you, they should be allowed to do it.”

Colorado coach Tad Boyle: "It tarnishes the idea that kids are here to get an education. That's why there are so many people it upsets, and people don't like it. I don't know of any person I've ever talked to who says, 'I like the one-and-done.'"

Another possible solution: the NBA can change their rule to the MLB rule, which would be a HUGE improvement. The MLB rule states that players can either get drafted straight out of high school or they must attend college for THREE years. This would be a great rule for the NBA to adopt because players who are uninterested in college would have the option to skip it and jump straight to the NBA, while those who actually want to experience college have that option.

Important Ethical Concepts

My social ethical perspective is strongly based off of Rawlsian, Christian Realist, and Kantian beliefs and concepts. Here are ideas from these philosophies that are applicable to my topic.


  • Rawlsian ethics stipulates that everyone has the right to basic equal freedoms. One of these is freedom of choice. The NBA is taking away this freedom from prospective players by not allowing them to enter the league after high school. As Stephen A. Smith points out, basketball players should have the same choice as tennis players, golf players, the people who serve our country, and anyone else who wants to make an honest living. Even baseball players have this freedom, which is why I think the NBA should adopt a rule like the MLB's.


  • The NBA is depriving young men of the opportunity to make a living by delaying their progress. Why hold them back? Putting things off leads to a number of risks. By delaying their progression, at least one big potential threat arises: the risk of injury. Therefore, young players should not be denied the opportunity to get a job in the NBA before something else happens that can, in some cases, cost them that job.

Using someone or something as a means to an end

  • This is immoral according to Kant's categorical imperative. I believe that college athletes are failing to show colleges and their fellow students respect. Colleges devote a ton of funds towards athletic scholarships, and while this could be considered a mistake on their behalf, the least that the athletes could do to pay them back is to stay on for more than one year and immerse themselves in the college culture as much as possible. Otherwise, they are failing to repay the favor, and are thus failing to show the colleges respect. They are also disrespecting other students by engaging in academic fraud. It is completely unfair to non-athletes who actually have to work hard and engage themselves in the material in order to succeed.

Thinking about what would serve others instead of what would serve yourself.

  • Athletes that go to college for only one year or two and that are completely uninterested and unengaged in academics are being selfish. They are taking away opportunities from students who actually want to make the most out of their college experience by learning, maturing, and graduating. Therefore, these athletes are failing to comply with one of Niebuhr's essential principles.

The Difference Principle

  • This Rawlsian principle states that inequalities are only permitted if they benefit the least advantaged members of society. Athletes receive special treatment in the college admissions process as well as in college itself through inflation and fake classes. College athletes certainly are not the least advantaged members of society, so this violates a crucial Rawlsian belief.

Time for Discussion!

Click on the following Padlet link and post your thoughts and opinions on the ideas discussed in this project. Discuss how you have interpreted these ideas and also compare your opinion with others who have posted theirs. Please include any social ethical insights or beliefs that you have.