“Fifty percent of all Division II basketball players think they are going pro; A quarter of all Division III basketball players think they are going pro. None of them are.” – Mark Emmert. NCAA President & CEO
Like many 18 year olds, athletes hoping to go pro have sever delusions of grandeur, and think they are better than they really are. In some rare cases a talent comes along who just might be as great as they (and we) think they are…What then?
Ben Simmons is a supremely gifted forward, 19 years old, 6″9, and he’s the concensus No.1 overall draft pick in this years NBA Draft. Why? Because he possesses a talent that has people wondering if we’re seeing the second coming of LeBron James. (LeBron James himself has signed him to his Klutch Sports agency).
March madness is the end of season finale to college basketball ultimately crowning the best team in college basketball. For the past year Simmons has been playing at LSU, a basketball program not good enough to qualify for the event.
Now one of the dirty little secrets of the NCAA is that March Madness, often serves up games of such low quality they’re painful to watch and are all in a predominant style of play that doesn’t reflect how the game is played in the promised land of the NBA. If this is supposed to be the pinnacle of college basketball and Ben Simmons’ team wasn’t good enough to qualify, I ask the question:
Is the No.1 draft pick in the NBA better equipped today for professional basketball, than he was a year ago?
Mark Cuban owner of the Dallas Mavericks emphatically says no “Three kids passing on the perimeter. With 10 seconds on the shot clock, they try to make something happen and two other kids stand around. It’s horrible. It’s ridiculous, It’s worse than high school. You’ve got 20 to 25 seconds of passing on the perimeter and then somebody goes and tries to make a play and do something stupid.”
NCAA President & CEO Mark Emmert has this to say “To force someone to go to college for one year to get acclimated to a professional experience, that doesn’t make any sense to me as an educator, to go and touch base for six months is a travesty to what the college experience is supposed to be about. I don’t blame the kid who is doing what he has to, and I don’t blame the coaches who want to win. But the system is letting down a lot of people.”
Owners, Colleges and Athletes all unhappy so in the words of Aaliyah “We need a resolution!” and by that I mean we need a change to the “one and done” rule.
What is the “one and done” rule?
All drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. To determine whether a player is eligible for a given year’s draft, subtract 19 from the year of the draft. If the player was born during or before that year, he is eligible. Any player who is not an “international player”, as defined in the CBA, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class. The “one year out of high school” requirement is in addition to the age requirement. Players whose 19th birthday falls during or before the calendar year of the draft, are at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class, and who do not meet the criteria for “international” players are automatically eligible if they meet any of the following criteria:
- They have completed 4 years of their college eligibility.
- If they graduated from high school in the U.S., but did not enrol in a U.S. college or university, four years have passed since their high school class graduated.
- They have signed a contract with a professional basketball team outside of the NBA, anywhere in the world, and have played under that contract.
You also must be released from your contract before you can leave college to go to the NBA. Those who have reached the minimum eligibility age of 19 and meet the criteria for “international” players are automatically eligible if they meet any of the following criteria:
- They are least 22 during the calendar year of the draft.
- They have signed a contract with a professional basketball team outside of the NBA within the United States, and have played under that contract.
In America an 18 year old is legally able to get married, consent to sex, own a gun, and enlist in the military, but yet is not able to decide for themselves whether or not they are ready for the demands of professional basketball…clearly something doesn’t add up. Well like in all good stories “Follow the money” and you’ll find your answers.
The NCAA generates over $1bn of revenue each year and this is in addition to the revenue generated by each individual athletic program, which is a further combined $11.5bn…yep that’s WRATH OF GOD MONEY. So what’s the problem? You’re 18 years old with your whole life and career ahead of you, there’s $12bn swirling around, the standard you have to play against isn’t the best apparently, easy money right? It could be, except NONE of that $12bn is going anywhere close to your pocket. You see the NCAA considers college players as “Student Athletes” which is an incredibly effective phrase that says a lot but in actual fact doesn’t say anything.
So what does it mean?
“The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies. Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms.”
Using the “student-athlete” defense, colleges have compiled a string of victories in liability cases and to this day the organization continues to invoke it as both a legalistic defense and a noble ideal.
“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education, Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.” – NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy
Basically the NCAA and it’s members can do anything they want (legally) to generate unlimited revenue, and they do not owe a penny to the athletes over and above the cost of their education. No medical liability, no obligation to pay image rights…nothing. And it doesn’t even end there…
1) NCAA rules prohibit a “student athlete” from getting a job that pays more than $2500 a year.
Taking the minimum wage of $7.25, $2500/year equates to working no more than 10hrs/week (during term time only) or 7hrs/week all year. I don’t know about you but I don’t know any minimum wage jobs where they will allow you to work less than 10hrs a week. Also why would anyone want to do that?
2) NCAA rules prohibit a “student athlete” benefiting from endorsements and profiting from their personal image.
College-bound and current student-athletes who want to compete at Division I and II schools need to preserve their eligibility by meeting NCAA amateurism requirements. If a college-bound student-athlete is paid for appearing in a commercial or receives an endorsement before he or she is accepted at an NCAA member school, his or her eligibility could be affected.
If the college-bound student-athlete was chosen for the commercial or other event for reasons other than athletic ability, he or she may be compensated. If the college-bound student-athlete was chosen to participate because of his or her athletic ability, he or she may not be paid. However, the prospective student-athlete may receive expenses related to the commercial event such as meals or lodging.
3) NCAA rules dictate athletic scholarships are not guaranteed income.
Athletic scholarships are a one-year, merit-based award that requires that a player meet both academic performance as well as “participation expectations” in their sport. So, if you get injured and are unavailable for selection, or for some other reason you do not play enough games…the college no longer has a legal requirement to pay your scholarship money.
All in all that means a college athlete is forced to put their body on the line day in day out and the only source of income they are legally allowed to have, is directly related to their health and performance.
College athletes are essentially FORCED TO WORK FOR FREE…at least for a year in the case of the NBA. For the NFL the mandatory college term is longer.
What does this mean for Ben Simmons?
Below is the guide value for NBA rookie contracts, as of the 2015/16 season. Players can sign for as much as 120% and as little as 80% of the quoted figures.
That’s right, the current collective bargaining agreement has cost Ben Simmons as much as $5.7m + $Xm from any endorsements he could potentially earn himself; all to participate in a rigged system that by all accounts does not adequately prepare him for the next level.
A common misconception surrounding this rule is, the NCAA has any type of control over it. The rules were written under the current NBA collective bargaining agreement and as such the NCAA, has “no choice” but to sit back and abide by them. Whilst that is the situation, it is a fact that they disproportionately benefit (to the tune of $12.5bn a year). So despite it being a morally and ethically unfair system, it would take a very brave NCAA President to lobby to change the rule.
Hypothetically if the system were to change, what are the options?
1) Lower the minimum age of entry into the NBA.
If there is an 18 year old player who is physically and mentally ready to compete with LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard, they and we shouldn’t be denied the chance to experience that. However, lowering the minimum age should also come with a greater amount of education for high school players with regards to where they realistically are on the development curve.
60 players get drafted to the NBA each year, and only 30 of them (1st round picks) have a guaranteed minimum salary. The combination of giving people options, and better education of the pro’s and cons of those options, leads to better decision making. This will raise the level of talent and performance across the D-League and college basketball.
2) Further elevate the NBA D-League
The theory of the NBA D-League is what college basketball should be, and that’s preparing players to perform in the NBA. It should be a mandatory requirement for EVERY NBA franchise to operate a D-League team, whether it be a 1-1 or a hybrid affiliation. As of the 2016/17 season there will be 22 NBA teams with D-League affiliations, for the wider NBA to fully reap the benefits of the model then every team needs to be involved.
Player salaries in the D-League have three tiers: $13,000, $19,000 or $25,000; so it’s obvious athletes don’t go into the D-League for the money. The benefits are exposure and playing in an NBA-like system, and consequently, real preparation for the next level.
3) Refine and Elevate College Basketball
a) Make scholarships guaranteed.
b) Allow college players to benefit from endorsements.
Once an athlete chooses to enter the college system, they will not be eligible for any draft (NBA or D-League) until they are either 2 years (Junior College) or 4 years removed from high school. I firmly believe, a college player who’s chosen to be there and knows he’ll be there for 4 years will perform at a higher level than one who is being forced to be there and knows he’ll only be there for a year.
The reality is the vast majority of players peak in college and will never play in the NBA so if an athlete is presented with a combination of the above options it forms a pretty robust system. Special talents will of course go straight to the NBA, all other players will have a choice between
1) Developing in the D-League, earning some money, with no education but the constant chance of being called up to the NBA.
2) Developing in college, whilst getting an education and potentially capitalising on your (statistically likely) moment in the sun, with no shot of the NBA at least until college is over.
Either way every athlete has the freedom to create their own path and write their own story.
Who doesn’t love freedom?