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Why turn down a million dollar contract?

Posted on 02.20.2013

Should a student athlete, who has the chance to be a professional athlete, stay in college and get the degree? Or should that athlete go on to make millions and pursue his or her dreams when the opportunity arises? When my friends and I talk about sports, this is one of the most debated subjects, and for good reason.

I have been a fan of University of Kentucky men’s basketball for the majority of my life. Because I live in Indiana, and the UK vs. IU rivalry is a hot topic, many of you can understand why I have to debate the questions above. For the past few seasons, Kentucky has been at the center of attention  for discussions of  one-and-done men’s basketball players. One-and-done players are student athletes who leave college after one season to play at the professional level. For the past few years, the men’s basketball team at Kentucky has been able to put together the top recruiting class, but there are consequences for landing the top recruits.

These recruits are the best at what they do and are the most talented group in the nation. Before 2005, these players did not have to go to college before becoming professional athletes. However, in 2005 the NBA collective bargaining agreement changed this rule, stating:

“The player (A) is or will be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year in which the Draft is held, and (B) with respect to a player who is not an international player (defined below), at least one (1) NBA Season has elapsed since the player’s graduation from high school (or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school).”

Since then, the level of talent in college basketball has escalated because of these tremendous athletes having to spend at least one year in the NCAA.

After a one-and-done player has served his or her time, he or she leaves, immediately following the end of the season. At Kentucky, this happens nearly every year with its top-recruited freshmen leaving the program.

Cartoon by Abby Gross

For a Kentucky fan, this gets old. I have to learn the names of new players every year because Men’s Basketball Coach John Calipari only recruits the best. Sometimes, it’s nice to think about how good the team would be if it kept all of its players, like the ones who won the program’s eighth national championship in 2012. However, this is unlikely until the NBA changes the rule. At times it does make me angry that players would choose to go pro after only giving us one year of their talents and before they receive a degree. Yet at the same time, I can see this from another perspective.

If a player feels prepared to play at the next level why not let him or her? While I agree that it is important to graduate, there are too many risks in declining the opportunity. What if a player suffers a serious injury from staying for one more year? What if their stock drops, and  prevents them from getting drafted as high? That player would regret making that decision for the rest of his or her life, and would  make nowhere near as much money as a professional athlete. There is a chance the player will not succeed at the next level, but if that happens at least the player can come back to a college to get an education.

Few opportunities exist to become a professional athlete but a player always will have a chance to receive a college education.

Even without a guarantee of making the same kind of money in the future, if someone was offering you the opportunity of a lifetime and a chance to make millions of dollars, would you still stay in college? Getting a college education means the world to me, and I am proud to say that I am on track to be the first one in my family to receive a degree. However, I can see the perspective of one-and-done players and cannot blame them for seizing the rare opportunity to become a professional athlete.


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