Brian Bowen was not a one-and-done player.
He ranks 19th in 247’s composite top 100 in the Class of 2017. He doesn’t show up on Jonathan Givony’s latest 2018 Mock Draft for ESPN. He’s not Marvin Bagley III. He’s not Michael Porter Jr. He’s not Deandre Ayton or Andrew Wiggins or LeBron James. He’s not on that level.
And Adidas thought that he was worth the $100,000 that it would cost to get him on Louisville’s roster.
Adidas had just invested $160 million into a contract with Louisville. They need Louisville to be good, and to protect that investment, they were willing to throw another hundred grand at a player that would help the Cardinals win games.
Nassir Little, who is thought to be Player-12 in the FBI complaints that were released on Tuesday, was in the middle of a bidding war between Miami and Arizona. Miami, who is sponsored by Adidas, wanted the shoe company to fund $150,000 to the family of the player to get him onto the Coral Gables campus, according to the complaints, but the slush fund that Adidas executive Jim Gatto uses to make those points was running low. He wanted to get the number down to $100,000 or $125,000, a problem considering a “rival apparel company” had already made an offer of $150,000 to get the player to Arizona.
Might the family be willing to wait until 2018, when money won’t be so tight? No, because, according to another Adidas executive, Merl Code, the family may be looking for $200,000 by then.
The four coaches that were arrested got caught accepting bribes from financial advisors and a runner for an agent in exchange for influence on where the future pros on their roster will eventually become clients. The future earning potential of the best in the college ranks is so great that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary for, say, Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person to be paid $91,500 to steer a pair of borderline first round picks to a financial advisor that was working with the FBI.
None of this is out of the norm.
No coach in the country thought that what they were doing was a federal crime. No one expected the FBI to start arresting shoe company executives for operating their business as usual. This is rampant in the college ranks for the simple fact that it’s how business has to get done.
I say all that to say this: The only way to truly eliminate the corruption in college basketball is to legalize the corruption.
Get rid of amateurism. Allow the athletes to profit off of their name and their image and their likeness. Let them sign with an agent. Let them be sponsored by the shoe companies. Let them get paid to sign autographs or have a local restaurant put their face on a billboard. Let a booster use the star point guard to help him sell cars.
It is the only possible way to save the sport of college basketball from collapsing in on itself.
Given what I mentioned earlier, there is no logical way to deny that college basketball players have value that goes beyond the jersey on their back. They have value to the shoe companies because the shoe companies want the programs they quite literally have billions of dollars invested in to be successful, and that is before you consider the potentially massive future profits if a player comes from nowhere to be the next Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook.
They have value to the head coaches who makes millions of dollars when the players that they have are good enough to help them win games. Why are “recruiters” so important to a coaching staff? Because if you can’t get players, you don’t win titles, and winning titles is what gets you a contract extension, a job in a bigger league, an extra zero on your contract.
They have value to agents and financial advisors because even a small percentage of their future earnings is massive. If all it took was, say, $10,000 a month for two or three years to ensure that you got 4 percent of every dollar that James Harden earns in his career, you do everything you can to find that $10,000 a month.
Denying this exists flies in the face of simple economic principles like supply and demand or capitalism, or the simple fact that humans are greedy and they like money. The reason this black market exists is because of the NCAA’s arcane amateurism rules.
As our Travis Hines put it, when you outlaw something, you create outlaws.
At it’s core, what’s happening here really is simple: Adidas is sponsoring Bowen. Nike and Adidas are competing over whether or not they can sponsor Little. Agents and financial advisors are funneling money to coaches as a go-between to recruit college athletes because they themselves are not actually allowed to recruit the college athletes.
Want to make that go away?
Allow kids like Bowen – whose $100,000 sponsorship from Adidas is peanuts compared to some of the numbers throw around with bigger prospects – to sign with agents. Allow them to hire professionals whose entire purpose in life is to help athletes navigate the always-expanding business side of sports. Allow those agents to negotiate those sponsorship deals while the player is still in college.
That’s not going to totally eliminate the seedy side of recruiting by agents, but nothing ever is, not when there is that much money at stake. And it’s not going to rid the world of middlemen trying to profit off of these kids. It will make some things uncomfortable in a locker room when a star is getting paid six or seven figures and a scrub is asking him to pay for dinner.
But at least the kids will be getting what they’re worth.
And something as simple as a sponsorship won’t ruin the next Brian Bowen’s college experience and, potentially, his basketball career.
What Tuesday exposed is the market at work.
The NCAA needs to finally stop trying to fight it, because they’re never going to win.