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|Brittney Griner's choice to return to Baylor for her senior season sets the Lady Bears up as the prohibitive favorites to win next year's title.|
Did Brittney Griner make the right decision by staying at Baylor instead of coming out early for the WNBA draft?
By Mechelle Voepel
To wonder whether Brittney Griner made the right decision by staying at Baylor for next season versus entering this WNBA draft suggests she really debated the choice. Actually, she didn't. She seemed bemused whenever reporters brought it up.
Every men's college hoops player who leaves early says virtually the same thing: "I'm fulfilling my lifelong dream to play in the NBA." But most women's college players don't think of the WNBA like that -- not yet, anyway. Griner didn't even get that interested in playing basketball until she was a ninth grader.
The WNBA is about to enter its 16th season, so it's been around since the current college players -- including Monday's draftees -- were small children. Many of them went to WNBA games when they were kids, including expected No. 1 pick Nneka Ogwumike.
Yet the idea of pro ball still doesn't crystallize with most women until they get into college. Consider what Tiffany Hayes, who won two NCAA titles at UConn, said while in high school: She wasn't even sure she was good enough to get a college scholarship. That remains highly valued by women's players: The chance to get their education paid for through athletics.
The degree still has great worth for women's players. Even though there is decent money to be made for Griner in combining WNBA and overseas salaries, it's not guaranteed multimillions, as is the case with her NBA counterparts.
As for endorsements, that's an elusive prospect for women's basketball players and most female athletes in general. In fact, the college game actually provides players more exposure than the WNBA does. The NCAA women's Final Four over the past 30 years has developed a foothold in terms of television ratings and casual-viewer attention that the WNBA Finals doesn't yet have. Female players seeking to raise their profile for future endorsement potential capitalize more on staying in the college limelight while they can.
Some women's players have bypassed a remaining year of college eligibility to turn pro if they could, but most haven't. And they likely won't for the foreseeable future. That is still the prevailing mindset.
Because she turns 22 this calendar year, Griner was eligible for the draft. But she truly enjoys the college experience and is in no rush to leave. She said she has just one more year left to be a kid. Two other draft-eligible juniors, Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, said the same thing.
For most men at that lottery-pick level, that four-year college experience understandably doesn't measure up to the NBA's certain millions. It wouldn't for most of the women, either, if they were getting that kind of money.
By Graham Hays
Brittney Griner is changing women's basketball, literally taking the game to new heights of athleticism, but that doesn't mean it would be in her best interest to try to single-handedly reshape where the sport fits in the landscape. The college game is still the sport's biggest stage, and despite the lure of playing for one of the WNBA's lone glamour franchises in Los Angeles, that makes Waco the place for her.
Griner may or may not think in terms of history and legacy -- if my own hazy memories are any indication, the junior year of college is not a time that necessarily lends itself to contemplating one's life decades down the road. But whether or not it's an active motive for returning to Baylor, the chance to enhance her legacy is an investment that far outweighs whatever short-term monetary reward awaited her in the professional ranks (the bulk of that reward is likely tied to play overseas and beyond the eyes of fans here).
Griner is already as close to a household name as there is in women's basketball, but another year of college domination and the potential for another undefeated season will do far more to raise her profile than anything she could have done for the Sparks -- ask 100 random sports fans, and odds are far more will know Griner won the NCAA title this season than know Maya Moore won the WNBA title.
Good for Griner if she simply likes being a college student or enjoys being around her teammates. But for reasons no more warm and fuzzy than future earning power, staying in school is the wise move.
By Michelle Smith
Brittney Griner absolutely made the right decision to stay in school. Money and the sponsorship opportunities will be there when she's done in another year.
The opportunity to experience college basketball with her teammates and finish her education will not. Griner could well have an Olympic gold medal around her neck from London when she returns to college, making her even more marketable and the Bears will be the prohibitive favorite to win a second title, putting her in the company of some of the greatest college players ever.
Women's professional basketball can wait. And just think of the anticipation that will be building in the meantime.
By Jane McManus
Leaving the college ranks for the pros is about choice. It's a choice I think should be left to an athlete, and it's no different with Baylor's Brittney Griner.
The Baylor star decided to stay in school for her senior year rather than make a modest fortune by playing in the WNBA and, more lucratively, for women's teams overseas. She weighed her options, and made an informed call.
If she blows out her ACL, people can look back and lament that she should have turned pro earlier. Certainly, it's in her economic interest to start earning while healthy. But that's the beauty of it -- no one else's opinion matters.
Everyone's situation is different, which is why men and women who are legal adults should be able to make the decision on their own, rather than being conscripted into a faux amateur system that financially benefits the NCAA and a professional league that will later capitalize on their college fame.
The market for female athletes is vastly different from that of their brothers, but Griner is one athlete who can capitalize on going pro in a real way. But she has made her choice, which by virtue of it being hers is the right one.
By Amanda Rykoff
Brittney Griner is the dominant player in women's college basketball. She's coming off a national championship and led her Baylor team to an unprecedented 40-0 season. If a man were in the same situation, there's no doubt he'd be bolting for the riches of the NBA. But she's a woman and is making the right decision by staying at Baylor for her senior season.
Griner is putting education and a commitment to her coach above the opportunity to jump to the WNBA, and for that she should be commended. In addition, it's important to remember that while the WNBA is the likely next step for top female college basketball players, it does not provide the same fame and fortune that the men's counterpart does. According to each league's respective unions, the top pick in the WNBA can earn approximately $48,000. The top pick in the NBA? $5 million. I'm no math major, but that seems to be a pretty big discrepancy.
Because of the "one-and-done" culture of the men's collegiate game, we assume jumping to the pros quickly is what every top player should do. Griner wants to complete her education, get her degree and enjoy this time in her life. How can that possibly be the wrong call?
By Melissa Jacobs
To me, Brittney Griner made the right decision for two reasons: education and exposure. For top draft picks entering the NBA and NFL, a college degree is often seen as little more than a feather in the cap. The reality is all of these guys will make enough cash with their rookie contracts that, with the right financial adviser, they should be set up for decades, if not life. And they always have the opportunity to go back and finish their degrees, if they are so motivated.
By contrast, the highest salary Griner can receive in the WNBA is $105,000, although earning potential is not just limited to that league. As Michele Steele pointed out in January, several marquee WNBA players, including Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi, have earned at least into the high six figures playing in Europe. Griner will likely follow suit at some point. But we are still not talking about the kind of money that sets you up for life. Griner may actually need to put her education to productive use at some point.
Perhaps the bigger issue, though, is the huge drop in exposure Griner experiences once she leaves Baylor. At this time last year, Maya Moore was a household name. Her spectacular highlights were broadcast regularly on "SportsCenter." The whole sports world was in awe of her talent. But when Moore was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx, she went from mainstream to niche. The same thing could happen to Griner. Right now, she's the most dominant player in the college game and a major discussion topic. By staying in college another year and cementing her status as one of the all-time greats, she not only helps her personal brand but creates more visibility for the WNBA once she is the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
By Sarah Spain
Brittney Griner has said her decision to stay at Baylor for another year came down to loyalty and the desire to follow through on a promise to her coach and teammates. While the No. 1 spot in the WNBA draft won't guarantee the kind of cash players in the NBA expect, Griner could make as much as $1 million playing abroad, plus hundreds of thousands more in endorsements. Suze Orman might tell Griner to get out early and make that money, but Matt Leinart would tell her to stay in school as long as she can. After all, who enjoyed being the Big Man on Campus more (and fell harder in the pros) than Mr. SoCal?
In the end, the decision is Griner's. She knows, barring injury, the money will be there next year, but her last year of college life can only be had now. Her decision may not be the smartest fiscally, but it's an admirable one. And for fans of college hoops, one more year of Griner's dunks, dishes, swishes and smiles is a very good thing.