The NCAA: An Outdated System

Updated: September 11, 2021

A belief system was created before most of us were ever born that the purity of amateur competition should be separated from the tainted hands of the monetary system. Ironically though, since this ideology was adopted, billions have been made in sponsorships and television contracts on the backs of the youth and primarily, the children of slaves, poor immigrants, and the struggling working class. Globally we have seen millions displaced to build small city-sized Olympic stadiums to be filled by the most talented amateur athletes who are asked to dedicate their blood, sweat, tears in years of preparation for patriotic dreams. The youth is a population often without agency, with no means to serious capital or a dependable income. Even when hitting the physical lottery and being born as a freak of nature in a sport that millions of people not only love to watch but are willing to pay for, the profits still never find their way in the hands of the young. The Olympics is an extreme global example. It is an entity with such a legacy that it is almost unimaginable to dissemble, but with all of us in NBA circles, the assumed route of college to the pros for top high school prospects has to be something put into question.

Jalen Green & Kuminga   

Two of the most explosive prospects in this 2021 draft class were selected 2nd and 7th in the lottery joining the Rockets in Houston and the Warriors in San Francisco. The thing that distinguishes Green and Kuminga from all the other 1st round picks this year is not just their knack for isolation scoring and a thirst for baptizing rim protectors at the basket, but their choice to turn down college scholarships from top-tier universities to instead play for G League Ignite, in the NBA’s minor league program. Not only is the level of talent and competition higher in the G League, but both of these lottery picks were also paid for their services. They agreed to sign “Select Contracts” guaranteeing them 125,000 dollars for 5 months of play.

Now, in comparison to the NBA, this is loose change considering max-level players are now signing 5-year 250-million-dollar contracts. But if compared to the rest of the world or even just an average worker in America, 125,000 dollars for a 5-month working year is a truckload of cash. Even for the players that do not have the marketability or ceiling of a Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga, the average salary in the G-League is now 35,000 dollars for a 5-month season. The NCAA has now allowed their players to accept sponsorship endorsements, something that they have been receiving illegally under the table anyways…but the same opportunity is available for players who decided to play in the G league or overseas.

The Mirage of an Education

The dedication and time needed for a player to take the step from a very good college player to just an adequate rotation piece on a winning team is such an enormous jump, more times than not it is never achieved. And as we have seen from countless lottery busts over the years, the leap from a top prospect in college to NBA All-Star is as rare as blue diamonds, especially considering the influx of internal stars who now have situated themselves as a large percentage of the league’s top-level talent.

The idea that this jump can be achieved while also attending a full load of classes at a prestigious education institution is a joke. Now, there are always outliers, and I am sure 1 in a thousand players is so brilliant and physically gifted that both getting to NBA and holding a 3.5 GPA just came easily. However, for everyone else, most of these players are taking filler classes to meet NCAA requirements and that is when they even show up to classes at all. This idea of “getting an education” when the vast majority of players who are NBA bound are 1-and-down players is nothing more than a slogan that attempts to legitimize the reason why these players are not being paid for the product they are producing, and others are profiting off of.

The Solution

The protection that we pretend to have for young athletes and their education can be seen as a farce by anyone who cares to look, and it is not the intention of this short and modest article to attempt to prove it. Schools have been defunded and from where many players who end up getting scholarships for basketball come from, their high schools spent more on metal detectors than on new books or school supplies. By the age of 14, instead of being forced into these high schools that have proven to provide zero economic mobility for the majority of the working class who attend them, high-level prospects should be able to join the G-League similar to way Luka Dončić did in for Real Madrid. These players would still receive 1 on 1 education and acquire not only a high school diploma but several credentials in applicable skills that should help further their careers as professional athletes or for life after basketball.

The NBA is a business, something franchises always wants to remind its players of, and it is in a constant conversation of why the ratings are down. Well, like every industry, consumers like shiny new things. The 1-and-done rule is basically in direct conflict with this fact. The league feels it should protect its 14th and 15th roster spots for 36-year-old washed forwards when they could be getting a huge influx of young faces and bouncing athletic legs ready to attack the rim. Not only should the NBA get rid of the 1-and-done rule, but it should open the draft to players 17 and older. If the military can recruit young men to go to war at 17 with their parents’ consent, it does not seem unreasonable that they could be drafted to fly to Canada to play the Toronto Raptors.

Imagine the possibilities if the G-league would have had all the top prospects competing this year. Imagine if the top 20 prospects going into the draft of 2022 were split into two teams and played a 7-game series with endorsements and cash prizes up for grabs on national television. Or the top 80 prospects could be divided into 8 teams and selected by ex-NBA stars as their coaches to begin a G-League playoffs to hype up the draft and solidify its order. Instead of only us nerds knowing who some of these players are before the draft and our mothers find out their names later upon their first All-Star appearances, their faces would be imprinted in the minds of even the most casual fan. NBA fanatics before the draft search far and wide on the web to get just a little more information about the player their team is considering using their lottery pick on. There is a high level of profit potential available for everyone involved to change this system, and unless the NCAA is willing to pay their stars appropriately, then they should no longer have the monopoly on the young athletic talent that is the future of the NBA.

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