The self-serving, laughable facade of the NCAA’s amateurism is crumbling.
The FBI investigation (which included a raid on the office of prominent agent Andy Miller) has exposed what everyone in the game already knew — money has been changing hands to line the pockets players/families/influencers for a long time. Coaches are in on it, agents are in on it, shoe companies are in on it, but it’s all done within a “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” system. Universities rake in the cash on the free labor of players in revenue sports — a college with a good basketball team sees alumni donations go up, the number of applicants to the school increase, there is a prestige factor, and it all more than pays for the seven-figure salary for the coach (which is not counting his shoe deal). Much of what the FBI has uncovered is not a federal crime, but the NCAA looks foolish. And this is far from over.
It leaves parents of athletes who could play major college sports with serious questions. LeBron James is one of those parents (LeBron James Jr., age 13, reportedly has standing offers at Duke and Kentucky.) Asked about it Tuesday at shootaround, LeBron — who skipped college to go to the NBA — ripped the NCAA. Via Dave McMenamin at ESPN.
“I don’t know if there’s any fixing the NCAA. I don’t think there is,” James said Tuesday. “It’s what’s been going on for many, many, many, many years. I don’t know how you can fix it. I don’t see how you can fix it….
“I’m not a fan of the NCAA,” James said. “I love watching March Madness. I think that’s incredible. I’m not a fan of how the kids don’t benefit from none of this, so it’s kind of a fine line and I’ve got a couple boys that could be headed in that direction, so there’s going to be some decisions that we as a family have to make. But I know, as the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league, and if kids feel like they don’t want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time, I guess.
“We have to figure that out, but kids getting paid is nothing new under the sun. You all seen ‘Blue Chips’? It’s a real movie, seriously. … The NCAA is corrupt, we know that. Sorry, it’s going to make headlines, but it’s corrupt.”
LeBron went on to discuss another truth in this — the NBA plays a role in all of it.
The one-and-done rule is part of the reason the money flows the way it does: It’s of great value to shoe companies and colleges to get the five-star recruits to go to a specific school, so the benefits flow under the table. Sometimes it goes to the player, more often it goes to a family member or influential AAU coach or someone else who can help steer the player to a school. Think of it this way (and I use this example not because I have publishable evidence of specific wrongdoing, it’s just because I know the numbers): Under Armour signed a 15-year, $280 million shoe and apparel deal with UCLA in 2016, that’s $18.7 million a year to the university — and you can be sure the company expects to make a profit on top of that. So if you’re Under Armour, a $100,000 payout to steer an elite player to UCLA — where he will raise the school’s profile and sell jerseys/gear/shoes — is a minor additional investment.
In talks with the players union and consulting with colleges, the NBA apparently is moving (slowly) toward a system that allows teams to draft a player straight out of high school (if he goes to college he has to stay at least two years). Teams now have a better focus on developing players, and they have an expanded G-League, that can help players make the leap to the NBA better than a year in college, for the elite guys. It’s not for everyone, but for guys such as Ben Simmons what is the point of a season at LSU if you’re already looking ahead?
Maverick Carter, the right-hand business agent, and friend of LeBron James, put it this way in a fantastic roundtable at USA Today.
“I think the NBA and the teams have to really roll up their sleeves, put together a team, a task force, a committee, and really figure this out because it’s a very complex issue. You have young players, lots of them African Americans, but also not African Americans, who come up through the system as it is today and don’t get paid until they maybe make it to the NBA. But everybody else is getting paid along the way. AAU coaches, AAU teams, college coaches, college teams, colleges. So when they do take money, it’s only a story because the NCAA has these stupid-ass rules that are so archaic, so you have to fix that whole thing and figure out a way to do it. I own a piece of Liverpool football club, in European soccer, because the clubs have systems all the way down to the youth. They’ve figured out a way where they don’t have to deal with it.”