The G League announced on Thursday an initiative that is a direct response to the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball and the Rice Commission on College Basketball that stemmed from it.
Beginning in the summer of 2019, the G League plans to launch a venture that would offer $125,000 “select contracts” to certain high school prospects that are 18 years old but not yet eligible for the NBA draft. This is a direct effort to challenge the NCAA’s monopoly on elite basketball talent during the one year between the end of their high school career and their draft eligibility.
“We appreciate the NBA’s decision to provide additional opportunities for those who would like to pursue their dream of playing professionally,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “The NCAA recently implemented significant reforms to support student-athlete success, including more flexibility when deciding whether to play professionally.”
“Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many. However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”
There are some moving parts here. How many select contracts will be offered? What is the criteria for a player to be eligible to receive one? How will those teams be dispersed throughout the G League?
But the intent is clear. The Rice Commission challenged the NBA to create an alternate path to the NBA for kids that want to get paid by the pros, and this is it.
The effect that it will have on college hoops will be interesting to follow.
Without question, this is a path that any player that is offered one of these select contracts should consider and evaluate. $125,000 is a lot of money, as is the potential to land endorsement deals. Getting a chance to work with professional coaches and professional organizations would help as hell, to say nothing of the money that these players would be able to earn legally — from shoe companies, from agents, from financial advisors — during their high school days. Adidas will be able to pay the next Brian Bowen directly without having to worry about jeopardizing his eligibility of landing one of their executives in federal prison.
But that path may not end up being the ideal route for a high school graduate to follow.
I’ve written plenty of words over the years about how and why college basketball is almost always going to be the best option for an elite high school recruit, whether or not he gets paid, and whether or not the money he does receive is legal. (You can read that here.) College basketball players, particularly the star players, deserve more than they get, but that doesn’t mean that they don’tlead a pretty good life.
And it is certainly a better life than flying commercial, riding buses and playing in front of tens of fans in cold gyms with games televised on YouTube streams.
That’s the G League.
The G League is also full of grown men that are, themselves, former five-star prospects fighting for their shot at a paycheck. Walking into that as an 18-year old that has never spent a second in a college strength and conditioning program and is just weeks removed from having their bed made by their mother is not exactly the best way for a kid to market himself to NBA teams. There’s a reason that Darius Bazely is spending the next year training on his own instead of playing in the G League. He’d get worked over.
And that’s before we consider what shoe companies want.
The reason that Adidas was willing to pay $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen to get him to go to Louisville was that he would be on national television wearing Louisville gear. It was, more or less, an endorsement. It is good for Adidas to have Louisville — and Kansas, and Indiana, and every other program branded by the three stripes — to be good at basketball. Is that money going to be there for these kids if they are playing for the Reno Bighorns instead of the Kansas Jayhawks? Or will they be more apt to invest it in the next-best player available in the college ranks?
And, perhaps more importantly, will that endorsement money be as big when these kids haven’t spent a full season playing on national television every single night? Without the hype that comes with being a star in March Madness?
There is a lot that is going to play out in this regard over the ten months, when this will go into effect.
And the ripples throughout the sport of college basketball will be just as interesting to follow.