Adam Silver's Dream of "Two and Through"

(Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)
(Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)

Since assuming control as NBA Commissioner in February, Adam Silver’s driving goal has been to increase the mandatory age limit to enter the NBA from 19 to 20. When asked by Malcolm Gladwell at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference what he would do if he could make any one thing happen as Commissioner, Silver immediately said he would choose to raise the age limit.

Silver has thus pushed for a conversation between the NBA, NCAA, and NBAPA about how to raise the age limit while helping to provide more adequate financial aid for college players.  Specifically, he softly proposed finding a means by which the NBA could help subsidize collegiate players in exchange for an increase in the age limit. In an ESPN article on Wednesday, Silver latched on to UConn star Shabazz Napier’s recent statements as a catalyst for such action:

“Rather than focusing on a salary and thinking of them as employees, I would go to their basic necessities,” Silver said. “I think if Shabazz Napier is saying he is going hungry, my God, it seems hard to believe, but there should be ample food for the players.”

However, any increase in the age limit will require the approval of the NBAPA. The NBA is likely to face significant resistance from the NBAPA who strongly favor no limits on a player’s desire to enter the NBA. The issue is so controversial that both parties agreed not to broach the topic during the contentious 2011 CBA negotiations that led to a lockout.

Silver himself may not be as altruistic as he is willing to let on either. The NBA’s CBA doesn’t allow a player to enter the league if he is 18, but it does give him the option of entering the NBA’s D-League for one year. If Silver is able to increase the age limit, he will have created the necessary conditions for a more sustainable D-League. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban already believes the D-League provides a better option than the NCAA for young stars. D-League players can acquire legitimate contracts and endorsements in ways NCAA players cannot.

Just imagine the type of spectacle the D-League would be if it became a more appealing option than the NCAA for Andrew Wiggins, and other one-and-done stars. A D-League featuring such robust young talent would turn into an attraction for fans, while warranting television broadcasting and sponsorship interest.

As a result, Silver and the NBA are likely to find the NCAA resistant to his proposals. The NCAA and school administrators believe the “one and done” phenomenon is a problem created by the NBA and as a result the NBA should have to solve it. The NCAA will not approve of the NBA subsidizing amateur athletes and risk upending a wildly profitable business model; one that in 2010 reaped a $10.8 billion March Madness television rights deal with CBS and Turner Sports.

It remains to be seen how the very complex relationship between player compensation at the collegiate level and the NBA’s age limit will play out. Silver may genuinely desire to increase the age limit in order to preserve the integrity of the NBA’s quality of play and brand strength. However, his nascent priority since taking the reigns as Commissioner faces many hurdles in the form of the NBAPA and the NCAA.

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