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Dime Discussion: Why Didn’t Andrew Wiggins Just Bypass College?

Recently, one of Dime‘s estimable co-founders theorized about Andrew Wiggins on Twitter. We decided to weigh the pros and cons of the idea, then turn it over to you. Basically, what did Wiggins have to lose if he’d decided to skip college in order to work out with MJ, Kobe and Wade trainer extraordinaire Tim Grover, before declaring for next year’s draft and scooping up all that sneaker money now?

The big downside to the hypothetical is one of competition. You never want to knowingly forfeit your right to compete against the best available talent. For Wiggins, that means big-time college basketball, which he’ll get playing at Kansas. But the pros of the theory are a lot bigger than you’d initially imagine.

Consider this: Wiggins’ hype is at an all-time high. If he’d been able to declare for the NBA draft right out of high school, there’s no question Cleveland is taking him with the No. 1 pick this past June. But there’s an age restriction, so Wiggins decided on Kansas.

Let’s say — God forbid — Wiggins blows out his ACL this season like Nerlens Noel did mid-way through his freshman year at Kentucky. That would mean he’s probably going to be passed over for Julius Randle, Aussie Dante ExumAaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart or any of the other top-flight prospects before next summer’s draft. Not only that, but his sneaker contract, which analysts say may be the largest ever for someone that hasn’t donned an NBA uniform yet, is immediately in question.

In a perfect world, Wiggins’ year at Kansas showcases why he’s considered the best pro prospect since ‘Bron, and he’s selected with the first pick. But, purely from a business perspective, it makes more sense for him not to play.

If it were a risk management consultant we were talking to, he’d tell us Wiggins should sit out a year, get stronger with Grover, then declare for the 2014 draft without risking injury or a drop-off in the league-wide belief he’s the best player available in June.

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But that route flies in the face of all the competitive instincts that make players of Wiggins’ caliber, superstars. He wants to compete against the best, and taking a year off — just on the slight chance he suffers a career-threatening injury, or his play underwhelms scouts — simply isn’t a part of a competitive athlete’s personality.

Most of the responses on Twitter acknowledged this component more than any other:

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Keep reading to hear more reactions to the idea…

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Quick note on the European idea, where Wiggins would play in Europe for a year instead of college. In that scenario, Wiggins could sign a lucrative sneaker endorsement — hopefully fully guaranteed, as Josh points out above — then play for real money across the Atlantic. Except, Brandon Jennings already did that before being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 10 pick in the 2009.

Part of the problem with playing overseas is the wide gulf it creates with the NBA team’s back home, and the sense of isolation and alienation that can set in when a teenager is separated from friends and family in an unknown environment. That’s not to say Wiggins couldn’t do it, just that it’s another thing to worry about.

And that’s before talking about the injury factor. If Wiggins neglects college for Europe, he’s still risking injury and the slight chance his play leads GM’s to the European-informed conclusion he’s not cut out to be the top pick.

There are a lot of variables that go into a decision to forfeit your college eligibility, and we’re guessing Wiggins has gone through all of them with his team. But from a purely business perspective, we might see more players taking an alternative route to the NBA so they can cash in when their stock is high, rather than risk the drop if they go out and play for free on the college scene.

Big time college basketball is a huge moneymaker colleges across the country, and their close ties to the NBA was a big reason for the age requirement in the first place. There have been discussions about raising the age minimum another year to avoid the one-and-done college exodus we’ve seen since the rule change, but there’s nothing concrete that could happen until the NBPA selects their next executive director.

Listen, we haven’t touched on the biggest reason atavistic sportswriters give for going to college instead of jumping to the NBA right away: players get a free education; they learn to live as an adult and get to experience all the trials and tribulations all college students go through as they struggle to reach adulthood.

But that’s hooey in some cases, and most thinking people understand it as such. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be more players who stick around a couple more years in college to get their degree and improve their game, but for the Andrew Wiggins’ and Julius Randle’s of the world, it makes more business sense to skip that year of college and do something else.

An education is important, but the lifespan of an NBA player is incredibly short, and it’s important these guys cash in when they can. Sure, players need that degree for their much-longer life outside of basketball, but the majority of these guys are gone after a year or two anyway. Plus, they can always go back later to finish the degree, which a lot of guys have done in the past; although, claiming to go back and finish the degree and actually doing so, are two very different things.

The idea presented in some parts of the press that top high school basketball players should actually be grateful for a scholarship opportunity to play college basketball, is the worst form of hypocrisy. Colleges make so much off this cheap labor, it’s not a stretch to call the whole practice a form of indentured servitude. This is why the arguments for, and against, the age limit are so strident on both sides.

Regardless, as players like Wiggins look at millions or tens of millions of dollars the moment they graduate high school, the debate about the NBA’s age limit, and the importance of playing in college, will continue to be bandied about. There is no clear-cut answer on either side because each case is separate. What might be good for Wiggins — a chance to play in the NBA now — might not be the case for most other players without his ceiling as a player.

What do you think of the idea?

Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.

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