Amid scandal, it’s worth asking: Are one-and-dones worth the risk?

Updated: October 12, 2017

8:44 AM ET

When a program the caliber of Louisville is accused of facilitating a six-figure payment from Adidas to the family of then-recruit Brian Bowen, people are right to wonder whether there’s a better way for college basketball to procure its talent. Accordingly, an NBA rule change to allow players to enter the league directly from high school, a partial retreat from total amateurism by the NCAA, or greater freedom of movement for transfers have all been advocated on the grounds that the resulting markets for talent would function in less nefarious and putatively more natural fashions.

Nevertheless, a better argument for change may be looking us in the face in the Bowen case itself. It might make perfect sense for Adidas, a company with over $22 billion in annual sales, to front $100,000 or so to a charismatic performer such as Bowen in order to forge a relationship and wall off competing brands.

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It made far less sense, if any, for Louisville to (apparently) think the No. 14-ranked freshman in the nation would really be so good on the court in 2017-18 as to justify risking all that has ensued. If Bowen is any indication, one-and-done-track freshmen are benefiting from a perceived value they would be unlikely to generate on their own in pure performance terms.

I pulled the data from the last decade of college basketball, a time period that has coincided with the reign of the one-and-done system. I found that the top freshmen really do perform better in their initial college season than other first-year players do, but a first-team all-major-conference player will, on average, outperform that elite freshman by a factor of about 5 percent in terms of offensive rating.

But this difference in performance is actually greater than 5 percent. All-conference players are more efficient while carrying heavier workloads on offense than one-and-done freshmen carry.