Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was speaking from the hip. This was not, he cautioned, a well-researched proposal, but talking to USA Today, he suggested that the D-League might be a better landing spot for star players than the NCAA. ”A major college has to pretend that they’re treating them like a student-athlete,” Cuban said. “It’s a big lie and we all know it’s a big lie. We can do all kinds of things that the NCAA doesn’t allow schools to do that would really put the individual first.”
After buying the Mavericks from Ross Perot Jr. in 2000, Cuban has been one of the most visible owners in all of American sports, headlining appearances at the MIT Sloan Analytics conference, sitting at the sidelines during Mavericks’ games, and racking up an unparalleled $2 million in fines from the league office. That stemmed from everything from tampering to insinuating biases among the referees to besmearing the good name of Dairy Queen — that last one earning him a fine of $500,000, the single largest fine in NBA history.
With talk around the league office of raising the minimum age to 20 — it’s currently 19 and was raised from 18 after the 2005 draft — the Development League would have a two-year eligibility advantage over the NBA proper. As it stands, just over a quarter of players in the NBA today have D-League experience (its website lists 137), and any increase to the age requirement would almost certainly raise that number. The D-League is currently most famous for its use as a vehicle for former NBA stars such as Antoine Walker and Ricky Davis to attempt NBA comebacks, although there have been some stars, like Houston’s Jeremy Lin, who rose to prominence in the Association after spending time in the D-League.
With the average cost of one year of college tuition hovering around $20,400 (courtesy of CollegeData), increasing the age requirement for NBA athletes can place an undue amount of strain on prospects’ families, who have to absorb the costs associated with sending a player to school for another year (even with a full-ride scholarship). And the risk of injury while playing what is winkingly referred to as “amateur athletics” is doubled by another season — no joke when a serious injury can not only result in an inability to go pro, but also a revoked scholarship, and no medical coverage.
In contrast, the D-League’s three salary tiers, ($25,500, $19,000 and $13,000,) while not the extravagant sums that many people associate with professional sports, allow players to begin making money for their abilities straight out of high school, not to mention having access to NBA-level medical care, coaching, and training staff. Cuban said he would like to see the age limit raised to 21 and a supplemental draft implemented into the D-League. Currently there are 17 teams in the D-League, a number which would have to expand if Cuban’s system is to have any hope of working.