SI's college basketball writer Grant Wahl analyzes the economics of basketball players staying in college.
He looks at whether there is a "any correlation between how long a player stays in college and the contribution he actually makes in the NBA."
Check out Wahl's research. Wahl's conclusion: If you're a sure-fire first round pick, history suggests there is "little to no advantage to sticking around college for another year (if all you're concerned about is your NBA livelihood and performance and not the value of, say, enjoying college, earning a degree, winning a national championship, etc.)"
Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan has other ideas. Said Donovan, "To me the most important statistic in the NBA if you're a player is minutes played. If you're not playing, you can't produce...The big question is, What kind of second contract are you signing?"
I would like to believe college athletics is the best training ground for elite players to develop their abilities for an career in professional sports. But the decision should be based on critical analysis, not emotional rhetoric.
There are many great reasons to stay in school, particularly if a college athlete is engaged in the pursuit of a quality education, enjoys college life, and wants to win a championship, etc. But many in the business of college athletics (particularly Dick Vitale) often zealously make the case against leaving school early. They point out the failures, including Korleone Young, Leon Smith, Taj McDavid (often used as Exhibit A when citing the mistake of players turning pro early, but in reality he wasn't a legitimate pro prospect or even a D1 prospect). They fail to point out the many more athletes whose career were derailed during their college careers (either by poor off the court decisions or simply by poor play).
Certainly professional sports is not an ideal world for young athletes, but neither is college athletics, where there are just as many (perhaps more) corrupting influences.
Unfortunately many athletes are so focused on getting into professional sports that they never think beyond that. The goal isn’t to get to the pros, it’s to stay in the pros. Do you want to be a first-round pick, sign a rookie contract, and then be out of the League after a couple of seasons? Or is your goal to have a 10-year career? The key is not the first contract (based on artificial "rookie minimums"), but the second contract (which is capped at $12 to $16.8 million per year based on experience). As Grant Wahl's analysis shows there appears to be a diminishing return the longer college players stay in school beyond the NBA required age minimums when viewed in terms of the value of the second contract.
Law professor Michael McCann wrote a scholarly article on this subject titled, "Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft."
The article "finds that players drafted straight out of high school are not only likely to do well in the NBA, but are likely to become better players than any other age group entering the league. In fact, on average, these players perform better in every major statistical category than does the average NBA player or the average NBA player of any age cohort."
I still think that college athletics can play a vital role in preparing future professional athletes, but we shouldn't fall for the rah rah "stay in school" arguments.