I’m generally against the NBA’s mandatory-minimum age requirement because I don’t think Commissioner David Stern should be the one deciding what’s best for the urban youth of America, but there is one positive side to the rule: It makes it much less likely that some kid who dominated his city league simply because he was a foot taller than everyone else will enter draft, get insanely rich, and flake out before every paying off for the franchise who drafted him.
Now can that still happen to someone who spends a year in college or even someone who plays four years and earns his degree? Of course. But along with assigning rookies a maximum salary, the minimum-age rule does, in theory, ensure that players will have to earn their right to a huge contract as opposed to just being given millions of dollars without ever proving themselves.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in the NFL, where a first round pick usually ends up becoming one of the highest paid players on their team before ever playing a down. Do you realize that Matthew Stafford, this season’s number one pick overall, will receive more guaranteed money than any player in the history of the league? $41.7 million in the bank for a guy that wasn’t even considered the best quarterback in the draft by every team in the league. Had Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford been in the mix, Detroit probably wouldn’t have even had him atop its board.
Maybe that’s the reason we see so many busts early in the NFL draft. These guys all grow up playing football because they love it, but for the tiny fraction of the population that actually has a chance to play professionally, money inevitably becomes a driving force. But when someone gets a Stafford-like contract, what’s motivating them now? Stafford could turn out to be Ryan Leaf and I guarantee he’d still be the wealthiest guy in his neighborhood.
I suppose I could just be a cynical person, but think about this from an every day perspective. If you were handed your college diploma before ever stepping foot onto campus, would you still attend every class and work your butt off to get a decent grade on every paper? Do you even do that now? It takes a lot of integrity to continue to work hard when things are already set in stone.
And by all means, Stafford could be that type of guy. But it has to be a little easier to know that even if he completely fails, he won’t have to worry about earning a second contract.
In the NBA, guys aren’t so lucky.