For all intents and purposes, Andrew Wiggins should be a very loud noise. The 18-year-old Canadian is six-foot, eight-inches tall with a seven-foot wingspan. He weighs approximately 200 pounds, and has a 44-inch vertical. He is the consensus number one ranked basketball recruit in North America, and is among the most hyped prospects of the last decade.
In addition to YouTube dunk montage maestros, college basketball coaches and recruiters focused themselves on Wiggins for the better part of the last two years, as he went about dominating the high school circuit as a small forward for Huntington Prep in West Virginia. The public, at least the portion that concerns itself with where high school sports stars attend college, was rabid with anticipation for the slightest hint of interest from the player.
Despite the amphitheatre of attention that this afforded the 18-year-old, Wiggins ended what seemed like an entire era of speculation on Tuesday afternoon with a whisper, or more accurately, a tweet. Avoiding the bright lights attached to television cameras and the claustrophobic conditions of a pressing media throng, the Vaughan, Ontario native quietly announced to his family, friends, teammates and a single reporter from a Huntington newspaper that he would be attending the University of Kansas next season. The rest of us would find out from the Twitter account of Grant Traylor, the one journalist with access.
Kansas is a somewhat surprising destination given that his parents both attended Florida State as student athletes, and his close friend and high school teammate, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, had already committed to the university where both their fathers had played together on the basketball team. However, in the days leading up to his commitment, Kansas emerged as a favored option among several pundits.
While his decision will even out the playing field in NCAA Basketball next season, it will most likely be on a very short term basis – the shortest term possible, in fact. While many will jump to conclusions that the relatively quiet announcement from Wiggins is evidence of a grounded individual, looking to avoid the spotlight, the truth is that the subtlety of a private signing is more fitting than all of the hype surrounding the commitment of what will most assuredly end up being a single year to the Jayhawks.
No matter what Wiggins says, just like every other college basketball player who spends one year in the NCAA before heading to the NBA, he has little or no interest in going to college. The only reason he will attend the University of Kansas next year is because of a pesky rule that requires players to be 19 years old with at least one NBA season elapsed since the player’s graduation – or when he would have graduated – from high school. The rule was instituted in 2007, four years after LeBron James dodged college basketball and went straight from high school to the professional ranks.
It’s a rule of convenience that governs the future of Andrew Wiggins.
The NCAA has spoken out against it with the veneer of the suggestion that the rule forces student athletes with no interest in attending college to go through the process anyway. It seems that Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA agrees with me that one-and-done players have little interest in attending college classes.
However, the organization’s motivation in altering the current rule isn’t altruistic. They don’t see the alternative being more freedom for elite athletes coming out of high school. They see it as less.
It suits the NCAA to keep young athletes playing college basketball under their purview for as long as possible. As we’ve looked at in the past, unpaid servitude is a rather lucrative enterprise for those being served. Last year, Emmert appeared on an episode of Costas Tonight on NBC Sports where he derided the one-and-done rule yet again.
It makes a travesty of the whole notion of student as an athlete. It simply creates the wrong type of environment for us. If you’re coming to us to be a collegiate athlete, we want you to be a collegiate athlete.
This is because the notion of a student as an athlete is already so pure? The wrong type of athlete under this scenario is one whose length of servitude lasts only a year instead of four.
In the meantime, the NBA benefits from its relationship with the NCAA for two reasons. It doesn’t have to spend as much money on the infrastructure necessary for a Minor League system to develop a large roster of athletes when potential professional athletes can play unpaid in college until they’re 22-years-old, and a good understanding of individual talent can be had.
The NBA also benefits from its best players already being popular before they’ve even played a single game in the league. As Allen Barra pointed out in an article for The Atlantic on this very issue, it’s not coincidental that “the boom era of the NBA began in 1978 when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were drafted, respectively, by the rival LA Lakers and Boston Celtics—after having faced each other in the highest-rated NCAA final up to that time between Michigan State and Indiana State.”
It’s all a gross and disgusting charade played by authorities who love the ideals of a free market only so long as it’s free for them and not those whose exploitation is necessary for making money. With his announcement today, Andrew Wiggins becomes the latest victim of what can increasingly be described as a cartel on basketball talent, an implicit agreement that benefits everyone but the people actually doing the work.
That’s why the setting for today’s announcement in a private high school gym was far more fitting than anything that the hype might have suggested.