Gene Henley: One-year rule can leave 'em done for good

Gene Henley: One-year rule can leave 'em done for good

February 19th, 2013 by Gene Henley in Sports - Columns

Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel (3) tries to get around Florida center Patric Young (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Last Tuesday night, my Twitter and cellphone blew up with the news that Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel had suffered a bad injury in my Wildcats' first humiliation of the week, at Florida.

This won't be a column bemoaning their recent futility, though. The stronger statement is the fact he was playing in the first place.

It's about the Next Big Attaction, also known as the National Basketball Association. It's about the "One-and-Done" rule -- forcing players to spend at least one year in college basketball -- that not only has wrecked college basketball but made a mockery of the college process as a whole.

While schools such as Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke have embraced the concept, it's a rule that really helps only one entity -- the NBA, which at one point watched while many kids straight out of high school muddled through terrible careers, with ultimately nothing to fall back on when they realized the NBA wasn't going to be as lucrative as they once thought.

Now top players enter college with one foot already out the door. And it's about a 50-50 split between those who at least attempt to go to classes and learn something while they're there and those who take Advanced Kickball and Freshman Focus courses to obtain the grades needed to stay eligible.

And while they play games, win and smile at the camera, their draft stock soars.

NBA fans clamor in anticipation of these kids' arrival into the league, while college fans are left with an empty feeling due to having to start over.

Injuries like Noel's hurt to see. They also legitimize enough doubt for a player such as South Carolina football star Jadaveon Clowney to consider not playing his junior season. If these kids are going to make millions, you can't judge the business decision, if one chooses to make it. Especially when Clowney knows Gamecocks teammate Marcus Lattimore, who tore ACLs in both knees after his freshman year, has cost himself millions by being required to play a sport for free.

Don't forget, Lattimore rushed for 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman. Did he need to prove himself anymore?

And since college athletics has become a business -- or as I call it for stars, an unpaid internship -- I can't fault any man who chooses to make that choice. And for those who say "they're being paid with an education," let's just stop there. I'm pretty sure you don't care about those kids' education when they're working for their schools on Saturday afternoons during football season.

They don't get a dime off all the replica jerseys flying off the shelves that the general public wears to football and basketball games. Peyton Manning isn't receiving a nickel in royalties from the hundreds of "No. 16" Tennessee jerseys I STILL see people wearing.

I believe there should be two options in college athletics: Either go pro out of high school, like they can do in every sport other than football and basketball, or require the players to stay three years, like they do in football. If the kid is good enough to go pro after his sophomore year, let him sit out and prepare for the pros.

College is a choice. Playing sports in college should be an honor and an accomplishment for those who get that chance -- not a requirement, like a college course.

Because if you're not going to pay the kids who get marketed and exploited from the time they're 16 years old, the least we can do is get them to the level where they can get paid -- the professional level.

As healthy as possible, unlike Noel and Lattimore.