Following the multitude of controversies that have circulated around NCAA basketball programs this year, many are searching for solutions for an organization that prides itself on its amateurism.
An FBI investigation this season has uncovered a money laundering scandal involving agents, shoe companies, coaches, and players at major college basketball programs. In September, the investigation revealed that Adidas and sports agents were funneling money to recruits in order to influence their college decisions during the recruitment process.
In February, the FBI released more information that implicated Nike, college basketball blue bloods such as Arizona, Duke, Louisville, and Michigan State in addition to strong programs like Maryland, Miami, and Washington.
Prior to March 31’s Final Four games, NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested that high school basketball players should have the opportunity to play professionally once they leave high school. According to Emmert, such an avenue could allow players to sign with agents and earn money directly out of high school, while preserving the amateurism of college athletics. Essentially, this change would sort the dirty money out of college basketball.
The source of this problem is that the NBA requires players entering the draft to be at least 19 years old, and they cannot enter before a year has passed since they graduated high school. This rule has only been in place since 2006, allowing prior high school phenomenons like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant to enter the draft without going to college. Today, many talented high school players depart from college after their freshman year, having met the minimum requirement to make millions of dollars in the NBA.
Emmert is not the first person to suggest a professional option for high school graduates. For instance, both James and helicopter NBA parent Lavar Ball have advocated for such solutions.
However, supporters of a professional league miss the point that a year of subpar pay will never be as lucrative as cashing in after spending a year in the college basketball spotlight. Though Emmert emphasized the benefits of the college experience for student athletes, in reality most one-and-done players do not attend college for the educational experience or the campus life. Instead, these players come for the networking opportunities college provides. In one year, a player at a major program can be coached by brilliant basketball minds like Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari and play nationally-televised games against the best competition in their league. Then, they can parlay this exposure into being selected in the NBA draft, and make millions of dollars for the rest of their basketball career.
The NCAA has all the infrastructure necessary to help these athletes reach the next level. A professional league of 18–year–olds would not.
Perhaps people would watch this basketball league, but it would not replicate the glamour that NCAA basketball provides, as well as the mass media attention that March Madness garners. Such a league would also lack the developed talent of older NBA-level prospects that college upperclassmen provide, meaning that the league would be composed of only raw talent.
I understand that money plays an immense role in these scandals and in an athlete’s decision to enter the draft. An NBA contract can allow a player to provide for their family and can drastically improve one’s life. However, a professional league of high school graduates would not be able to provide that kind of comfort. It would still benefit talented players to go to college for a year, not just for the education but for the exposure, rather than joining an unproven professional league.
I hate hearing about the incessant scandals in the college basketball world. It’s possible that a professional league could end the era of recruiting violations and vacated victories, but being a realist, I don’t see Emmert’s idea ever coming to fruition. Unfortunately, I don’t have any better ideas to rebuild college basketball, but a good first step is celebrating that this year’s national champion, Villanova (coached by University alumnus Jay Wright ’83), embodies the class that the NCAA strives for.