STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
There was a bizarre moment last week when Duke men's basketball star freshman Zion Williamson slipped and fell during a game. He almost did serious damage to his knee because his shoe ripped apart...
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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Look at his...
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Look at his left shoe. He blew completely through the shoe. And then he started holding his right knee. I mean, his shoe blew apart...
INSKEEP: ...Which reignited a debate.
JEFF ZILLGITT: In the heat of the moment, people were talking about, why is this guy even playing college basketball when he has so many millions to make in the NBA?
INSKEEP: That's USA Today sports reporter Jeff Zillgitt. He was covering the shoe mishap when he was tipped off that the NBA had submitted a proposal to allow athletes to be drafted at the age of 18. Currently, the limit is 19, which leads many athletes like Zion Williamson to go to college at least for a year before going pro.
The National Basketball Players Association confirmed to NPR News that the NBA has submitted that proposal. And the NBA formally is not denying it. Zillgitt spoke with our co-host David Greene about why the league is doing this.
ZILLGITT: Truth be told, the league is not enamored with this idea. In fact, in the last round of collective bargaining, the league wanted to move that age to 20. But what happened is they get pushback from the union. The union's never going to stand for that. Like, they don't even want a kid to have to spend one year in college. And also Condoleezza Rice was part of the commission on college basketball.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Oh, the former secretary of state...
ZILLGITT: You got it. Yeah.
GREENE: ...Who also has a deep interest in athletics too. Yeah.
ZILLGITT: A hundred percent - so her commission on college basketball came back with a report that said, hey. This rule of draft-eligible age 19 is not working for colleges. And so Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, he's come to the conclusion that he's never going to get 20. Nineteen isn't working. So let's come up with a plan here to allow some of these kids to go straight from high school to the NBA.
GREENE: Although you did raise the issue of, this is not a good thing for some colleges to have this change. Why would that be?
ZILLGITT: Well, take a look at a school like Kentucky or Duke. They get these really talented freshmen for one year, and they could make deep runs into the tournament. But these are one-year shots. There's no continuity, no chemistry. And there was also this promise to these - an implicit promise, if you will, that if you're good, you're going to get drafted high. And why not do it at a high-profile school like Duke and Kentucky who are on TV all the time?
GREENE: What about the athletes? I mean, is there an argument that 18 is just too young to be in a professional basketball league? I mean, why not just give these young people a chance to be on a college campus for at least a year to mature?
ZILLGITT: I'm pretty laissez faire on this issue. I could go either way. But take a player like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant. They were ready to play in the NBA after they got out of high school. And then there is the whole point of kids making mistakes and not getting the right advice. And then is there anyone helping you along the way, saying, hey, maybe you're not ready? You do need a year or two at college. And, I think, that's what originally worried the NBA when they adopted this rule.
GREENE: If you're an NBA fan, I mean, are you going to notice a change in the league if this happens, if this announcement's made?
ZILLGITT: I don't think you're going to notice a huge change. There's going to be your handful of guys who still go to college for one year and realize, maybe I wasn't going to be a top draft pick a year ago. But because I've developed and improved and I had this exposure at these big programs, I'm going to be a top-10 pick. And I'm going to leave after one year.
GREENE: Jeff, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
ZILLGITT: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on today.
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INSKEEP: USA Today sports reporter Jeff Zillgitt spoke with David Greene here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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