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Good Question: How Can Pro Sports Teams Set Age Limits?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has brought up an age-old issue within the NBA. He wants to raise the minimum age, which is now 20 years old. Right now, a player must be at least 19 and one year removed from high school. He argues it would make for a more competitive draft and another year of player maturity.

But some college players disagree.

“If they’re ready, then why not? Lebron, he’s a beast,” said Mitch Nass of Eagan.

His lunchmate, Meredith Fredericksen, took a different take.

“I think the kids should still have to go to college,” she said. “It builds their character.”

In Major League Baseball, players must graduate from high school. If they enter junior college, they can be drafted any year, but if they enter an NCAA college, they must wait until the end of their junior year to go pro.

The National Hockey League sticks with age. Players can be drafted at age 18.

And when it comes to the National Football League, players must be three years removed from high school. In most cases, this means players can enter the NFL draft after their junior year of college.

So, how are pro sports teams even allowed to set age limits?

“It comes down the fact that players have unions, and the owners collectively bargain with those unions,” said Justin Seurer, a sports attorney with Seurer Law.

The age limits, though, have been tested. In 2003, Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett sued the NFL. His attorneys argued the NFL age policy robbed Clarett from a lucrative football contract.

At first, a judge ruled in Clarett’s favor, saying the age limits violated anti-trust laws. But that ruling was eventually overturned. Other judges found the collective bargaining agreement prevailed.

The judges also ruled that the union can represent players who aren’t officially members.

“What the courts have already said is that each potential professional athlete is considered a member of the union for the collective bargaining agreement,” he said.

If the players’ union and the NBA agree to change the age limit, it won’t occur until 2017.

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