Lon Kruger: We Need To Protect Players That Leave Early

Lon Kruger, speaking during a Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics panel discussion earlier this week in Washington D.C., said that student-athletes, if they are in demand, should have the opportunity to receive endorsements.

“For so many years, it was not a highly discussed topic,” the Oklahoma head basketball coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show, referring to compensating players. “It was kind of, ‘This is the way it’s been for a long time.’ Obviously in the last decade or so, there’s been a lot more to discussion about it, and we’re certainly moving in the direction of (focusing more on) student-athlete well-being – in every way. Not just financially, but medically and (with injuries) and (health-wise) – all those issues. We got to have that at the center of all of our discussions. They are at the core of everything we do, and we need to be respectful of that and keep moving in that direction.”

Kruger, who led two universities to the Final Four more than two decades apart, said that schools, administrators and athletic departments need to be “fair” to student-athletes.

“You got to have that as a priority,” he said. “My point at the Knight Commission was a very small percentage of our student-athletes can go out and make an appearance and also make it good and prosperous for the people that are paying for it. If it’s not a good business decision, then the businesses are doing it to support the program and help recruiting, and I don’t think that’s what everyone was after. So that small percentage of guys or gals that can go out, we need to think of something (to reward them). Maybe it’s a path to move on to the professional level. Maybe it’s a path to put money in a trust. I don’t know that anyone knows the answer, but to try to do it and monitor it and regulate it, that’s what everyone’s interested in doing.”

Kruger, 63, is also in favor of allowing prospects to enter the NBA right out of high school.

“Anytime you can give choice, if you have choices, (that’s good),” he said. “I think a young person going out of high school, if they want to do that – not that many are ready to go – but I don’t think they should be restricted. I think if that’s a choice and if they decide to go to college, I think being there three years is a good plan with the waiver. Give them a waiver that if they prove their worth, if they prove their brand is more than their scholarship, I think that should be determined by the pro leagues. If Buddy (Hield), after his freshman year, proved that he was going to be an exceptional guy in demand for appearances – and that’s determined by the NBA – then he should have a waiver to go right away. But if he does that, then the NBA, I think, should compensate him.

“We got to protect these people that go out,” Kruger continued. “More than half our guys that go out early for the NBA never play in the NBA. They go out early, they don’t play in the NBA, now they’ve only got a year under their belt academically, they’re maybe not as mature or experienced as they would have been had they stayed two more years – we just have to consider all of that. Most importantly are the ones that fall through the cracks and don’t make it in the NBA.”

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