College Degrees in the NBA

College degrees are a gift that not everyone gets the chance to have. In Jaleesa Bustamante’s article, “Percentage of High School Graduates That Go to College,” Bustamante claims that “nearly 25% of high school students considered middle class indicated they were not planning to attend college because of the expense.” Student athletes that get full ride scholarships or just scholarships in general to colleges, are lucky people. They have the ability to play the sport they love while also getting a degree. In a Scholarship Owl article, “Athletic Scholarship Statistics,” it claims that in 2017, 181,306 student athletes got some sort of athletic scholarships. Many people do not have the ability to attend college due to their lack of money, so student athletes who are getting handed college for free have once in a lifetime opportunities, which includes coming out of college debt free. This leads me to feel that NBA players should get a college degree, whether it’s before their careers, during or after. 

I believe that having a college degree is important in everyone’s lives because it can open up many opportunities. College degrees can even give former professional athletes a life after their sports career. It’s hard to find many NBA players getting their college degrees before their careers because they have the opportunity to participate in the one-and-done rule, which means they go straight to the league one year after high school. In Nate Burleyson’s article, “The History of NBA Draft Eligibility and the Elimination of the One-and-Done Rule,” Burleyson talks about how in the 1960s, to be eligible to enter the NBA, a player had to be four years out of high school, meaning they needed to graduate college. In the 1970s, Spencer Haywood decided to go to the ABA, which was the NBA’s rival, after only playing two years of college basketball. One year after playing in the ABA, Haywood decided to play in the NBA, being only three years out of high school. The NBA was hesitant to let Haywood play so this was taken to court and found to be violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. This led to high school graduates and young college players eligible for the NBA before they graduated college. From about 1995-2005 a huge amount of players went straight to the league after graduating high school. 

The one-and-done rule then became apparent for the NBA in 2005 with players having to be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school before entering the NBA. In “One-and-Done: An Academic Tragedy in Three Acts,” Jerome C. Weber talks about how the only benefits of the NBA’s one-and-done rule is that the players get a chance to play basketball at a higher competitive level in the NCAA and the NBA teams can get a closer look at the players they are expecting to draft. The players also get a chance to make their name more well known to fans, so once they do get drafted to the NBA, their merchandise can sell more. Although I do understand these so-called “benefits”, there is no benefit of getting a college education for a year, just to go to the NBA and not get a degree out of the education part. All these players have to do is pass two classes in their fall semester to make them eligible for a spring semester and after that it does not matter how they do in their classes because they are not returning for a second year. So in reality, they do not have to actually learn anything at school while participating in the one-and-done rule, they just have to make sure they are eligible for basketball season. This rule just seems to degrade the opportunity of getting an education, showing players that as long as they do the bare minimum, they will succeed. To be able to fulfill all the opportunities the players are given, I see the most beneficial ways for a player to do that is either go to college for four years, get a degree, go to the NBA and make a load of money or they just go straight to the NBA right after high school, make a load of money and get a degree during or after their careers. This one-and-done rule could even be affecting non-student athletes’ education. The NBA prospects are taking up class seats that other students could actually need in order to fulfill the requirements of their majors. The NBA prospects are even taking scholarships from the universities so they can play, but these scholarships can go to students who plan on staying for four or more years to actually get a degree and need the money. I see it as unfair to both the student athletes who might not have had any interest in going to college in the first place and for the non-student athletes who care to actually learn, as they are not as lucky as the NBA prospects who are going to make millions from their careers. 

The one-and-done rule not only does not benefit the student athletes much, the rule also does not benefit the universities or the NCAA. Players in a way are encouraged to focus more on their own careers rather than the whole teams’ season. Players who decide to participate in the one-and-done rule or even go to college for two years are more focused on their stats and getting out of college to make it to the NBA. Although taking a year to play at the collegiate level is supposed to help mentally mature the players which is supposed to make them not think that way, their own stats have to continuously be running through their minds. When teams have players constantly coming and going, it is hard to have a flow, especially when they all have not played together before. When athletes play for teams, they are expected to be 100% committed to that team. Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, makes a good statement in Allen Barra’s article, “Both the NBA and NCAA Want to Keep Athletes in College for Too Long,” saying “if you’re coming to us to be a collegiate athlete, we want you to be a collegiate athlete.” 

Though some people might find the one-and-done rule beneficial for players who need to mature, it is also a huge risk factor for unnecessary injuries. By playing a season in college, the players are giving their bodies a chance to ruin their careers before they are even started. If you look at it this way, a player can go play college basketball and risk getting a career ending injury before entering the NBA or they can go straight to the NBA, make a bunch of money and risk getting a career ending injury. In “The One-and-Done Dilemma” written by Rachel Stark-Mason, she interviewed Jonathan Bender, the 5th overall pick in the 1999 draft. Bender states “When you’re projected to be a top-10, possibly top-five (pick), you don’t want to sacrifice (it by) going to college at that point, or going anywhere else, because you could get injured or anything else could happen. So you want to take that opportunity when it’s presented.” High school seniors who know they’re going to be picked in the first round of the draft are not going to want to risk a season of college basketball where they can potentially lose that pick and all of the money due to an injury. Even Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, says that the NCAA suggested that players who are doing the one-and-done rule should just go straight to the league, being there is no benefit from the rule.

Playing a season of college basketball before the NBA is keeping the players away from a well deserving salary. In the article, “Here’s how much the first pick of the 2018 NBA Draft will make as a rookie,” Tom Huddleston Jr. commented that the first round pick in the 2018 draft was projected to make as much as $8 million dollars. The second pick can make about $6 million, the third pick can make about $5.4 million and even the last pick in the first round can make around $1.3 million. Those salaries are just for playing basketball, not even considering how much more money a player can make with all of their endorsements. Not only are players being deprived of these salaries when they are forced to play a year of college basketball, but they also have to watch their families financially struggle, as pointed out in Grant Hughes’ article, “Why the NBA’s 1-and-done Rule Is Causing More Harm Than Good.” When NBA prospects are in high school, they have the opportunity to get some sort of job to provide extra income for their household, but once they have to go to college and play, they do not have enough time to have a job. If the players were able to go straight to the NBA after high school, they would not have to worry about their family losing income. A lot of things can happen in a year and if a player’s family is financially struggling, waiting a year to make it to the NBA might be too late. 

All of this money can also come with problems. Whether their former players or still playing, they need to know how to handle their money and who they can and cannot trust. This is where I believe a college degree such as business or finance might come in handy. Some people might say that getting a degree for an NBA player is useless because they are not going to need it when they are making millions of dollars that could last them a lifetime. The reality of that is, if NBA players do not handle their money right, they could end up scraping the surface to pay their bills. Some NBA players could be thinking the same thing, “Oh I have money to buy this, it is not a big deal.” If a player says that before he makes every purchase, that money in his bank account is going to eventually disappear. Although players want to give back to their families, there is also a possibility that their family members will try to take advantage of them. Most players will give money to their family without question, but sometimes they have to learn when to say no because in the end, they are the ones making the money for a living for themselves and eventually that money could end up fading away. In Chris Dudley’s article, “Money lessons learned from pro athletes’ financial fouls,” Dudley mentions that 60% of retired NBA players go broke their first five years after being done playing. This is due to financial scams, unqualified advisors and reckless spending. 

Former NBA player Antoine Walker had some serious debt with Las Vegas casinos and ended up losing over $1 million in a year and later declared bankruptcy after some bad real-estate investments. In an interview with Jane Wollmann Rusoff from ThinkAdvisor, Walker admits that he was stubborn with the way he wanted to spend his money and that he was young and was not thinking about his life after basketball, the way that his financial advisor was. Having a business degree could have helped Walker make better decisions with his money and could have opened his eyes to the bigger picture that there is in fact a life after basketball. Some might think that there is no point in getting a college degree when the NBA players can hire a financial advisor. There is nothing wrong with hiring someone to help since they are less connected to things that a player might feel obligated to give money towards, but the problem with that is players are putting their trust into complete strangers who are ultimately controlling their lives. Most likely NBA players do not know much about investments unless they teach themselves or know a trustworthy person to explain the concept, so they will not know the difference if their advisor is scamming them or not. In Rusoff’s interview with Walker, when she asks him if he had a financial advisor, he proves my point by answering, “yes, but back then you don’t know who’s good or who’s bad when choosing one.” Players would best benefit if they knew how to take care of their own money. 

All of the money that NBA players make along with their extraordinary careers get their names well known. Although their names are well known by many, that does not automatically mean they are qualified for all types of jobs after their basketball careers. For example, let’s say a retired player wanted to become a teacher and give back to the kids in their community. A school district is not going to hire the retired player just because they are famous and played a professional sport. They need to be qualified for the job and the school district needs to know that they actually understand the material that they will teach to the students. Not every retired athlete wants to or has the ability to become a broadcaster or movie star like Shaquille O’Neal or Rick Fox, others might want to fulfill another dream of theirs. Some former NBA players that are not as well known and do not have as much money as the top notch players will most likely need a fallback plan once they are done playing basketball. If they do not have a college degree, there could be a lesser chance of them being able to get a job because they are not equipped like others who have a degree.

After retiring, Michael Jordan went back to UNC, got his bachelor’s degree and now owns restaurants, a car dealership and part of the Charlotte Hornets. Once Shaquille O’Neal retired, he went back to LSU and got his bachelor’s degree and then went to Barry University to get his doctorate degree. He now is a broadcaster for ESPN and owns plenty of restaurants, car washes, fitness centers, a shopping center, a movie theater and multiple nightclubs. Tim Duncan stayed at Wake Forest University for four years, got his bachelor’s degree and was still able to be the #1 pick in the 1997 NBA draft. He is now an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs and owns a car customization business. This shows that these retired players were able to get their college degrees when they were done playing and for Duncan’s case, before his basketball career launched, and they all knew how to rightly invest their money into businesses. 

I keep reiterating that NBA players should get college degrees so that they have something to fall back on when their careers are over, but the degrees represent more than just an education. Getting a college degree is also about a sense of accomplishment and success. In the article, “Drew Gooden fulfills promise to earn his college degree,” written by Marc J. Spears, Gooden, former Washington Wizards center, talks about graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in communication. He states “It was a relief because there was something missing in my life that was incomplete. It was getting the degree.” In 2002 when Gooden decided to enter the NBA draft, he promised his mother and his University of Kansas basketball coach that he was going to get his degree. In a Sports Illustrated article written by Stanley Kay, John Wall, current Washington Wizards player, talks about how he made a promise to his father before he died, that he was going to get a college degree. In the summer of 2018, Wall decided to return to the University of Kentucky to earn a business degree. For many players, a college degree represents an opportunity that most of their family members never had a chance to obtain. Players see getting their degree as an obligation to their family and the reality that they made it in life. 

If student athletes decided to stay and graduate college before going pro, there could be a nice benefit that they would enjoy in the long run. If the student athletes decided to take up the University’s scholarship offer, they would be able to come out of college debt free or close to it, which is a remarkable and rare opportunity. They would not have the life long stress of paying off student debt and they would have the chance to spend their money on luxurious items. If players decided to get their degree during or after their careers, they would have to pay, but probably would still come out debt free and barely make a dent in their bank accounts. Being able to get a college degree is a very remarkable achievement, so the moment should not go to waste. 

Getting a degree can be very beneficial in the long run, but if NBA prospects are so worried about going straight to the draft and making the most amount of money that they can at the moment, then they should attempt to get a degree while in the league or after. When people have goals for themselves, they seem to forget about the obstacles that may come along the way. NBA prospects only focus on making it to the NBA and fulfilling their childhood dreams, but they forget about the idea that there is a life after basketball and that there are multiple factors that could affect their futures. Having a degree to fall back on could be beneficial to someone who is just beginning to start the rest of their life. 


“Percentage of High Schoolers Attending College.” Percentage of High School Graduates That Go to College. Jaleesa Bustamante. September 7, 2019.   

“Athletic Scholarship Statistics.”   ScholarshipOwl. Athletic Scholarship Statistics. June 24, 2018.  

“NBA One-and-Done History.” Medium. The History of NBA Draft Eligibility and the Elimination of the One-and-Done Rule. Nate Burleyson. July 2018.  

One-and-Done.College and University. One-and-Done: An Academic Tragedy in Three Acts Vol. 85, Iss. 2, Jerome C. Weber. Fall 2009. 

The NBA Having Players in College.The Atlantic. Both the NBA and the NCAA Want to Keep Athletes in College for Too Long. Allen Barra. April 2012. 

One and Done Dilemma.” NCAA. The One-and-Done Dilemma. Rachel Stark-Mason. Fall 2018.

NBA Rookie’s Earnings.CNBC. Here’s how much the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft will make as a rookie. Tom Huddleston Jr. June 2018.  

The Harm of One-And-Done.” Bleacher Report. Why the NBA’s 1-and-Done Rule Is Causing More Harm Than Good. Grant Hughes. August 2013. 

Money Lessons Learned.CNBC. Money Lessons learned from pro athletes’ financial fouls. Chris Dudley. May 14, 2018.

“Antoine Walker’s Crumble.”  ThinkAdvisor. Ex-NBA Star Says He Should’ve Listened to His Financial Advisor. Jane Wollmann Rusoff. June 2019. 

“Drew Gooden Getting College Degree.” The Undefeated. Drew Gooden Fulfills Promise to Earn His College Degree. Marc J. Spears. May 2017. 

“John Wall’s Return to College.”Sports Illustrated. John Wall Plans to Return to College This Summer to Pursue Degree, Fulfill Promise to Father. Stanley Kay. February 2018.

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