Media and the one-and-done rule- pt. 1

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series. This part focuses on journalists and the one-and-done rule. The second part will be posted in about a month and will focus on columnists and the one-and-done rule.

As March Madness moves on,  some of the players aren’t thinking about the games, they’re thinking about their futures. A rule established in 2006 between the NCAA and the NBA allows players to stay in college for one year before entering the NBA. This rule is called, obviously, one-and-done. I did some research about what journalists have said about the rule and the players who use it, as well as whether journalists have an overriding moral and ethical obligation to this story.

Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James by-passed college, became professional basketball stars, have made millions and earned the endorsements that come with professional athletics. However, James is the last player drafted from high school. In 2006, the National Basketball Association instilled a one-and-done rule, which states that high school basketball stars cannot enter the NBA until one year after graduation, thus forcing a one-year stint in college. One-and-done initiated much fodder for sports columnists and commentators. Journalists have tried to remain neutral, though there’s a slight tilt against the rule. While I agree with the neutrality – that’s a journalist’s job, after all – journalists need to raise issue with one-and-done.

The rule has a negative effect on both students and universities. Students are denied the opportunity to receive a full, four-year college education and the memories that come with it. Feinstein (2008) elaborates on this point:

While the handful of players who are going to be one-and-done each year likely won’t ever graduate from college, they will have some college memories to take with them to the NBA and a little more experience and maturity from their brief college experience.

I agree with the latter half of the statement: one year in college helps a student mature and is better than no college; however, a student could be more mature and experienced with three or four years of college. In fact, Miller (2009) interviewed Rick Leddy, the National Association of Basketball Coaches spokesperson, who said “That (Major League Baseballs approach to its draft) gives him at least three years in college. It’s a realistic goal to earn your degree.” Leddy draws a comparison between collegiate baseball, where a player can earn a degree in three years and have the chance to play professional baseball, and collegiate basketball.

Other journalists note how the lack of a college experience hurts student-athletes. “College is being used by some as a pit stop on the road to the NBA, true student-athletes who intend to earn degrees are paying the price,” Garcia (2009) writes. Van der Horst (2008) adds that freshman superstar John Wall was forced to obey the rule and go to college, despite finding a loophole in it; Wall wouldn’t have gone to college if one-and-done didn’t exist. The emphasis here is that Wall wouldn’t have gone to college, thus he is being denied a college education.

One-and-done affects universities in two ways. First, there’s immense pressure on coaches to recruit the best players and retain consistency from year-to-year. Coaches recruit more one-and-done players than four-year players, causing the four-year players to look elsewhere. For example, Armour (2009) writes that “coaches such as (Ohio State coach Thad) Matta are left to retrace their steps, recruiting players to replace their most recent recruits.” She adds that four Ohio State players have been taken in the NBA draft over the last two year after spending one year in college. If coaches cannot recruit the best players and retain consistency, they’re fired. “Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie after he went 40-27 a winning percentage of almost 60 percent then threw $32 million at John Calipari,” Armour (2009) writes. Calipari was hired because he had success recruiting at Memphis, with Derrick Rose being his star player.

Because coaches are under pressure to recruit the best players, things will go awry. Scandals plague players and, by extension, universities. Armour (2009) highlights two recent scandals associated with the one-and-done rule and the players who utilize said rule. Wieburg and Garcia (2008) also publicize recent scandals, “the head of the NCAA’s enforcement division said Monday that the NBA one-and-done rule for college basketball players could be contributing to potential rules violations.” The stories of Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo are two examples of the scandals associated with one-and-done.

Derrick Rose, a former University of Memphis basketball player, allegedly had a stand-in take the SAT for him, in order to gain academic admission to the university. Despite a probe into the matter, “Memphis officials say they found no proof the player cheated and weren’t made aware until after the 2007-08 season that the Educational Testing Service invalidated the SAT score,” Garcia (2009) notes. Rose, of course, denied all wrongdoing. “Visited at his suburban Chicago home last week and asked if the allegations were true,” Garcia (2009) continues, “Rose said he couldn’t comment.” Whether Rose used a stand-in, it’s clear that he was going to college for a one-and-done basketball career, rather than an education.

While the Rose situation rocked the University of Memphis, another one-and-done scandal rocked the University of Southern California. O.J. Mayo is accused of accepting $30,000 in cash and gifts from an agent, violating NCAA rules. Mayo, like Rose, has denied any wrongdoing.

However, other activities surrounding this case contradict Mayo’s denial. Wieburg and Garcia (2008) write:

The allegations against Mayo arose Sunday on ESPNs Outside the Lines. In the report, former Mayo associate Louis Johnson said in recent years Rodney Guillory funneled about $30,000 in benefits and cash to Mayo, some of which was wired to Mayo’s friends’ bank accounts. Johnson said he heard Mayo confirm the receipt of the funds by phone. Mayo allegedly also received gifts from Guillory through a fraudulent charity’s credit card issued to Guillory.

Armour (2009) adds “USC coach Tim Floyd resigned Tuesday following allegations that he gave $1,000 in cash to a man who helped steer Mayo to the Trojans.” If Mayo didn’t violate rules, why would Floyd resign? Mayo and Floyd are linked, so if one admits guilt (albeit, nonverbally), the other one should, too. As if more proof was needed, the Associated Press (2010) reports that “the university had imposed sanctions on the team for recruiting violations involving former player O.J. Mayo, including a ban on postseason play — including the Pac-10 tournament — this season.” This scenario emphasizes that scandals, like Mayo’s, can scar a team after the player in question leaves: Most players are punished for something they did not do.

Journalists have a love-hate relationship with scandals. On one hand, breaking a scandal gives the news organization and the reporter credibility. On the other hand, scandals bring the journalistic standby, the a-word – allege. Three of the eight sources I found discuss the negative aspects of one-and-done, using the a-word or something similar. These headlines read “‘One-and-dones’ could be risky for schools,” “One-and-done players leave behind a mess; Scandals shake school, spur call for NBA age-limit repeal” and “NBA’s ‘one-and-done’ may have role in abuses.” The stories and their respective headlines do a good job pointing out the abuses and negative aspects of one-and-done without incriminating anyone. I believe journalists should shed light on the negativity of one-and-done because it’s the reason students aren’t getting an education and for the scandals. Since most universities receive some amount of taxpayer dollars, the general public has the right to know.

Despite all of the negativity surrounding one-and-done, some journalists highlight the benefits of the rule and even defend it. Feinstein (2008) call the rule a “boon to college basketball” and Wieburg and Garcia (2008) note that one-and-done players are a “force on the college scene.” Marot (2008) adds that one-year players are becoming more commonplace in college basketball and “deep tournament runs often force underclassmen to cash in on the NBA’s big bucks.” He also calls one-and-done players such as O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley “fabulous freshman. Feinstein (2008) even deems one-and-done critics “silly and self-righteous people.”

As an avid sports fan, I won’t deny that one-and-done has impacted college basketball; I’d be a hypocrite for saying otherwise. However, one-and-done has more cons than pros and does more harm than good. As I noted, there is a loophole in the rule, evincing carelessness during the development of the rule. How many more players will find this loophole before the NBA notices? The rule is a business decision, rather than an educational one. “Under the NBA’s rookie salary scale for 2009-10,” Van der Horst (2008) writes, “a top-five pick would make at least $7.65 million over three seasons, not counting other income.” I also think that one-and-done is a way of cashing in on young talent. Teams pay rookies millions of dollars, fans fill seats at games and purchase merchandise and teams generate revenue, thus creating a cyclical effect. While this is typical of all sports, it feels exaggerated by the NBA because of the younger talent associated with one-and-done.

Also, one year of college basketball is not a factor of NBA success. “This year’s NBA Finals features players with no U.S. college basketball experience making up 60 percent of the starting lineups,” Sacraceno (2009) writes. If you can make it to the NBA Finals without college experience, is the rule necessary? On the other hand, some players use the rule and realize they made a mistake. Leung (2010) narrates the story of Quincy Pondexter, a “struggling one-and-done talent,” who declared early for the NBA draft and after realizing it was a mistake, returned to play for the University of Washington. Pondexter learned his lesson from his father, who also left college early and ended up as a “prison guard nicknamed ‘Bonecrusher.’”

This leads me to my biggest gripe with one-and-done: the rule, at its core, is hypocritical. It promises the prosperity associated with professional athletics, while denying the prosperity associated with a degree. It puts unnecessary pressure on young people, often resulting in scandals that effect myriad people. It removes student from student-athlete. In order to undo the discrepancy, I believe the NBA should look to other professional leagues’ draft policies, either eliminating one-and-done or increasing the minimum amount of college experience. Either option would result in all-around benefits. The former course would allow a player could choose to defer college, going straight into the NBA and receiving an education on his own, while the latter course would allow a player the ability to receive a college education at the same time he hones his athletic skills, thus making him a better player and a more productive member of society. Feinstein (2008) elaborates on the latter, “It would be great to get to know them better as people, to watch them grow and mature and become comfortable as public figures. By the time Grant Hill graduated from Duke in 1994 after playing in three Final Fours, most college basketball fans felt as if he was an adopted son.”

As journalists, there are several ethical considerations to take into account when covering one-and-done. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t cover it. We’re in this quandary partially because we sensationalized some basketball players, and now we have to balance that sensationalism with ethical reporting. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2007) lay out some ethical considerations, including providing a forum for public criticism and striving to make the significant interesting and relevant. Given that one-and-done garnered criticism from journalists and columnists, we should use our platform to continue to foster discussion about the rule. Because there are so many opinions about the rule, journalists should “serve the forum-creating function by alerting the public to issues that encourages judgment” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2007, p. 166). They also note how this ethical aspect of journalism helps to affects public policy, including the one-and-done rule:

As the public begins to react to these disclosures, the community becomes filled with the public voice – on radio call-in shows, television talk shows, personal opinions on op-ed pages, in blogs, chat rooms, and in public opinion polling and elsewhere. As these voices are heard, by those in positions of power, they make it their business to understand the nature of public opinion developing around the subject (p. 166).

According to Patterson and Wilkins (2008), “press portrayals feed into public discourse” (p. 187) and “the press ought to amplify public debate,” (p. 187) thus further highlighting the journalism-public discourse connection. However, using journalism as a public forum is only one ethical consideration to take into account.

Just as journalists should help feed public discourse, we have an ethical obligation to make issues relevant. The one-and-done rule has many off-the-court aspects, which have to be balanced with the on-the-court aspects. We must make the off-the-court issues engaging and relevant, thus furthering the journalism-public discourse connection. In order to make issues relevant, journalists must forgo the traditional inverted pyramid story and use contemporary stories and page designs. The following story ideas, according to Kovach and Rosenstiel (2007), help to explain the negative aspects of one-and-done: show “readers why something happens or how something happens” (p. 199) with an explanatory piece; focus on the “larger picture” (p. 199) with an issues and trend story; “look into wrongdoing, ‘follow the money,’ analyze power struggles and make use of available documents” (p. 199) with an investigative story. Adding as many graphics and illustrations as possible in conjunction with these stories also help to make issues relevant.

Another way to make issues relevant is to localize them. If you’re the editor of a local paper, try finding local examples of one-and-done such as local players who’re using the rule or local coaches’ perspectives on the rule, rather than running an AP story. Every newspaper has a different audience, who might react differently to a localized story, rather than an AP story. Localizing one-and-done brings the community together, heightens the journalism-public discourse connection, makes stories relevant and leads to community journalism.

The third and final ethical consideration we must heed when covering one-and-done is exercising our personal conscience. “Every journalist,” Kovach and Rosenstiel (2007) write, “from the newsroom to the boardroom, must have a personal sense of ethics and responsibility –a moral compass. What’s more, they have a responsibility to voice their personal conscience out loud and allow others around them to do the same” (p. 231). Journalists spend four years in college and receive a degree, while these one-and-done stars don’t receive a degree, yet they’re paid more than journalists. This discrepancy is why journalists should exercise their personal conscience. If we shed light on one-and-done using our personal conscience, we’re more apt to use it when covering other scandals. As Friend, Challenger and McAdams (2005) put it, “they (ethical decisions) grow out of experience, honest discussion and a willingness to seek out and stand by strong principals” (p. 314). The experience, honest discussion and strong principals can include, among other things, our personal consciences.

While the one-and-done rule helped to make college basketball more exciting, the rule does more harm than good. As a sports fan, I believe that this rule should be scrapped. As a journalist, I believe that it is our moral, ethical obligation to portray every angle of one-and-done, even the negative ones. The rule comes with scandals, which journalists thrive on; thus, journalists, by definition, should cover it. From the ethical standpoint, covering one-and-done helps to fuel the journalism-public dialogue relationship, helps to make issues relevant and helps journalists to exercise their personal conscience. Brady and Wieburg (2008) note that the rule runs through the 2010-2011 NBA season and NBA Commissioner David Stern will try to push for a two-year rule. It’ll be interesting to watch journalism as the one-and-done end date draws near to see how journalists handle it ethically.


Armour, N. (13, June 2009). ‘One-and-dones’ could be risky for schools. Associated Press.

Brady, E, & Wieburg, S. (2008, May 20). Merits of one-and-done rule in NBA face fresh scrutiny. USA Today.

Feinstein, J. (4, April 2008). It’s one and done, but they still made it fun. Washington Post, D14.

Friend, C, Challenger, D, & McAdams, K. (2005). Contemporary editing. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Garcia, M. (5, June 2009). One-and-done players leave behind a mess; Scandals shake schools, spur call for NBA age-limit repeal. USA Today, C1.

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2007). The Elements of journalism: what newspeople should know and the public should expect. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Leung, D. (4, February 2010). Pondexter learns from father’s mistakes. Retrieved from

Marot, M. (17, March 2008). NCAA tourney could be last chance to see this year’s fab freshman.  Associated Press.

Miller, R. (25, June 2009). Another Buckeye set to use the NBA’s one-and-done rule. Associated Press.

Patterson, P, & Wilkins, L. (2008). Media ethics: issues and cases. Boston: McGraw -Hill.

Players unhappy to miss postseason. (4, January 2010). Associated Press.

Sacraceno, J. (12, June 2009). In Finals, basketball prodigies; College experience no prerequisite for starters. USA Today, C1.

van der Horst, R. (16, April 2009). NBA option for Wall?: Prep star could be eligible for draft. The News & Observer.

Wieburg, S., & Garcia, M. (13, May 2008). NBA’s ‘one-and-done’ rule may have role in abuses. USA Today, C2.



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2 responses to “Media and the one-and-done rule- pt. 1

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