I know some of you believe that the existence of a viable professional option for high school players would mean that the NCAA would be relieved of the pressure it currently faces maintaining its amateurism model. This piece in The Athletic about the nascent Historical Basketball League ($$) suggests another possibility.
By drawing some of the best high school recruits to the HBL and away from college teams, the HBL could eventually compel the NCAA to change its “amateurism” policies that limit scholarships and endorsement monies for players, more quickly and regardless of what happens in the court and state legislatures (beginning with California) on these fronts.
As evidence that competition matters, O’Bannon in his book points to the competition for college-age hockey players, who can choose to attend college or go pro in the Canadian Hockey League. He notes that over half of the hockey players in the NHL come from the CHL, compared to just 30 percent from NCAA colleges. Because of this competition, the NCAA’s rules regarding high school hockey players meeting with agents – forbidden for football and basketball players – are much less restrictive, and far more sensible. High school hockey recruits can be drafted and meet with their teams to have “candid discussions” (O’Bannon’s term) about the player’s future: whether it makes sense to play for a while in college, all the time on scholarship, and then go pro with the team that drafted him, or turn professional right away. Hockey players also can talk to the team that drafted them (and which holds exclusive rights for five years) throughout their college careers to assess whether they are ready for the next level. The key point is that hockey recruits are treated differently, O’Bannon argues persuasively, because hockey players have a viable alternative to improving their game while in college.
Competition from the HBL, therefore, can be expected to compel the NCAA to adopt a similar system, or go several steps further, because the HBL’s salaries will be substantially higher than the $400/week that the CHL pays its players.
To believe that there won’t be significant pressure on the NCAA to adapt to a world where high school athletes have a choice of where to play after graduation strikes me as somewhat naive. Why would schools like Duke or Kentucky shrug and walk away from chasing high level talent all of a sudden? And, given its track record, why would the NCAA ignore them, or risk lessening the attraction of its crown jewel, the men’s basketball tournament?
Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think this is nearly the slam dunk some of you believe it would be.