The controversial NBA rule that keeps basketball players from beginning their professional careers until they’ve completed one year of college play may soon be history.

The NBA has formally announced that “elite” 18-year-old basketball players will be able to move forward with their professional careers beginning with the 2019-20 season, skipping the current mandate that they play one year of college basketball before being eligible to be selected in the NBA draft.

Beginning 2019, selected “elite” players who turn 18 by September 15th prior to the start of the season would become eligible to sign a “select contract” with the G League, the NBA’s player development league. They would play for a year and earn $125,000 before entering the NBA draft, in lieu of playing at the collegiate level for one year without earning any income.

Future NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone was the first to go directly from high school to play in the professional ranks. In 1974, Malone become a star in the American Basketball Association. Two years later, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby went straight from high school courts to the NBA. Then, after a 20-year hiatus, the NBA experienced a resurgence of high school players going directly to the NBA with such future stars as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.

In 2005, after much criticism over the players’ physical and mental preparedness and many failed efforts by high school players in the NBA, the league and the players association instituted a minimum age of 19 for eligibility to play in the league. David Stern, the commissioner at the time, had proposed a league entry age limit of 20, but agreed to 19 during collective bargaining negotiations.

The most recent collective bargaining agreement, covering the 2017-18 season through the 2023-24 season, states:

-All drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. TO determine whether a player is eligible for a given year’s draft, subtract 19 from the year of the draft. If the player was born during or before that year, he is eligible.

-In addition, any player who is not an “international player” as defined in the collective bargaining agreement, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class. The one year out of high school requirement is in addition to the age requirement.

The “one and done” rule has created a group of athletes who essentially are forced to delay their professional careers while electing to attend one year of college. In fact, eight of the top nine picks in the latest summer’s draft spent only one year in college.

The league has promised that players would receive training in basketball as well as in “life skills” as part of the G League program. It didn’t disclose how many players would be invited into the program, but the G League said it would be “a very specific group of elite players.”

In addition to receiving compensation for their basketball skills and performance,

these “elite” players would be able to hire agents and accept sponsorship money for shoe and apparel endorsements, which they are currently barred from receiving as amateurs playing in college.

Commenting on the announcement, NCAA president Mark Emmert stated, “We appreciate the NBA’s decision to provide additional opportunities for those who would like to pursue their dream of playing professionally …. Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many. However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”

The formal end to the one and done rule appears imminent. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is behind the move and current negotiations between the NBA and its players association anticipate elimination during the current collective bargaining agreement and before the 2022 draft.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.