“Professional college athlete”

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.


Filed under The NCAA

30 responses to ““Professional college athlete”

  1. I have no idea about the quality of hockey coaching in the minor leagues, so the big difference the colleges have over developmental leagues (you should be able to take this to football as well) is that the colleges have Coach K, Roy Williams, Bill Self, etc. (hopefully, we can get Crean into that discussion). If a one-and-done really wants to get ready for the NBA, he wants to go where the coaching is going to get him ready (work outs, practice, quality of play, TV exposure, etc.) … that means college.

    Make my comment no endorsement of the economics of college athletics at the highest level, but there is value to be gained studying under and playing for the best coaches.


    • With regard to the point you make, you should read the linked piece, if you have a subscription.


      • Good article (as usual in The Athletic) … It’s an interesting business model if they can pull it off. I do question whether the value in March Madness is in the names on the front of the jersey or the back. In reality, it’s both. Some tuned in to see Zion (the NBA fans). Some tuned in to see Duke. Most tuned in to see if Duke with Zion could win the tournament.


        • Duke and Kentucky wouldn’t be Duke and Kentucky without their stars.

          And I suspect your last sentence is what’s going to be the motivation for the NCAA to discover a new meaning for amateurism, should the time come.


          • Not sure I would agree with you about Duke & Kentucky … if one-and-done ends, it’s not like they are going to become irrelevant in college basketball. They’ll still likely get the best players who decide to go to college to play.

            I agree with you … the NCAA can fix this if they want to. I still don’t understand why they have decided NLI is the hill they want to die on.


            • One-and-done is a different business model than what we’re talking about here.


              • I understand what the model is. It’s professional basketball during the summer with the added benefit of guys of getting a college education during the other half of the year.


            • CB

              Kentucky of all programs would become immediately irrelevant without one and dones. Calipari’s whole system is predicated on it.


              • chopdawg

                Calipari’s system may depend on the one-and-dones, but KY basketball had thrived long before Calipari got to campus & IMO will continue to thrive.


                • CB

                  They didn’t do much thriving in the 10-15 years before he arrived. If you don’t think historically great programs can flame out and join a crowd of NCAA hopefuls I present to you UCLA.


          • 79Dawg

            You guys are missing the point – its not just Duke and Kentucky that would “suffer” if the baseball/hockey model were implemented – it is the sport of college basketball, and all teams, that would “suffer” and take a dip. Whether the dip is temporary or more permanent depends, to a large degree, on how good these coaches really are and how quickly they can re-elevate the level of play with (presumably) less-talented players!


  2. TimberRidgeDawg

    Would it be a bad thing leaving getting paid to the minor leagues like MLB and let the kids that really to go to school for an education make that choice? The situation today, as it continues to evolve, has gotten way past the mission of colleges and those who administer it.

    Leaving the NCAA out of it, football money synthetically derived from network deals is driving all of this. Prior to the explosion in conference deals, the majority of revenue came from ticket sales and fund raising and varied wildly depending on the resources available to a particular school. Now you have the Ole Miss’es and Miss States of the world with access to funds that would otherwise be completely out of reach. Everyone has money and it gets spent on palatial facilities and salary competition in the coaching market.

    Meanwhile, other than Men’s basketball to a degree, the non revenue sports run pretty much in a vacuum as they always have other than a bit of rising tide lifts all boats from a facilities and amenities perspective paid for by football money. Nobody is particularly arguing to pay them and one and done is about to go away so this is really an isolated football problem.

    The schools themselves need to decide what they want to be. My own thoughts are that if they are going to pay the players, then the schools that want to do that should spin the programs out out of the NCAA and align with the NFL to build and support a minor league football system separate from the the non revenue sports with profits spun back into the schools to fund athletic and academic endeavors. The traditional conference alignments would be maintained for the non revenue sports but there could likely be a reordering and combining of a smaller number of schools in the minor league system similar in structure to the NFL regions and conferences. You could put a formal salary structure and caps in place to keep the schools on a level playing field and it would require basically hiring folks that know how to run a professional franchise but the players would get paid, wear the uniform, and we could probably still play Florida in Jax every year. The schools could also put tuition into the contracts should the players decide they actually want to attend class.

    Also separating football as a minor league operation could potentially take care of a lot of Title IX issues and restore some non revenue men’s sports.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Would it be a bad thing leaving getting paid to the minor leagues like MLB and let the kids that really to go to school for an education make that choice?

      I suspect Mark Emmert’s answer to that question would be yes.


      • TimberRidgeDawg

        I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m an Emmert fan. I just don’t think the NCAA is fundamentally capable of administering the sport as it exists today. They are an anachronism living an a world that no longer exists, at least as it pertains to P5 college football.

        The players should be paid on one hand but on the other they owe their marketability and earning power at the college level to the stage provided by the colleges and the historically large fan bases that follow them. No minor league standalone football team is going to draw 92K and a massive TV contract. The colleges need stars and the stars need a stage to maximize revenue, if that is the goal, but neither needs the NCAA in the middle of the evolution.


        • The players should be paid on one hand but on the other they owe their marketability and earning power at the college level to the stage provided by the colleges and the historically large fan bases that follow them.

          And the market will sort that out.


  3. Got Cowdog

    I don’t have a subscription so I may be out of line, but what is the “Slam Dunk”? On one hand you have a functioning example with the CHL. The HBL could easily function as well if not better, as you imply. If it does (I know I’m rehashing your point, just making sure I got it) NCAA Basketball stands to lose a good deal of the star power that drives it’s demand. So a logical entity would not have much trouble saying sooth that it might be prudent to adapt the current model to reduce the competition’s leverage.
    What makes it a non starter (Slam dunk) is the NCAA’s stubborn heel digging with regard to change. I think the NCAA feels it’s amateur brand will have continued appeal regardless of competition as long as football remains it’s flagship and they have a myriad of reasons to justify not changing the existing model . That being said, we all know the alpha in that pack is the NFL. Until the No Fun League decides the model needs to be changed it’s not going to be easy to make happen.
    Just my .02


    • The point is that the NCAA has already carved out exceptions to its amateurism protocol in response to market competition. With the financial stakes for men’s basketball being exponentially higher than men’s hockey, is it logical to expect something different?

      • Got Cowdog

        Nope. But the NCAA won’t do it until circumstances force it. And if you have to do it for Basketball, then you should have to do it for football? Oh, wait my bad. There is no other league competition looming on the horizon for CFB. No need to change anything there.


    • The professional leagues love to bitch about the product the college system produces whether that’s spread QBs who aren’t taught to go through their progressions, offensive linemen who can’t really pass block long enough for a QB to go through progressions, a kid who can’t hit a 17-foot jump shot, or the ability to play 90 foot man-to-man defense. The NFL has decided to live with the system because they don’t have to invest in (and subsidize) minor league football. The NBA dabbles in it with their developmental league but no one cares (guys might get their shots, but it’s still a long shot for one of those guys to make and stick on a roster – I haven’t done the research to test my assertion).

      Baseball and hockey are completely different models. They built their developmental league structures before intercollegiate athletics became a feeder system. While college baseball and hockey provide players to those minor league systems, they typically only serve as the “lower” tier (think single A minor league) alternative to the bus leagues.


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  7. chopdawg

    Methinks the NCAA will wait and see whether the HBL can stay in business. (I don’t see how it can, given the salaries it’ll be paying, unless it receives huge sums of money for TV rights; and even if it gets big TV bucks initially, I doubt there’ll be enough fan interest to keep the TV money flowing).

    If the league does stay in business, congrats Senator, this is the “market” you’ve been waiting for. Every player will have a choice: go play for an NCAA school, where they can put on the jersey of said NCAA school and receive instant recognition, super facilities, and world-class coaching; or hop to the HBL and get paid handsomely right away, but play for second-tier coaches in smaller arenas with much less fan interest, and still no guarantee of an NBA career.

    I hope the HBL flourishes, and gives basketball players the market they deserve. However, I really doubt the league can pull enough high-school superstars away from the NCAA to survive.