Fair Pay-to-Play NCAA Rule: Top Three “What if” Scenarios
Athletes across the world, professional and amateur alike, rejoiced on Tuesday. This came at the news that the NCAA governing board unanimously agreed to allow NCAA athletes to profit. Now, it’s not like they’re being paid just to play the sport, as that would make them professionals. Rather, college student-athletes can now profit from their “name, image, and likeness”. This NCAA fair pay-to-play rule change is a huge deal for so many reasons. NCAA athletes have so much on their plate from classes and studying for exams to workouts and practices.
It’s extremely difficult to balance all of that — former UConn guard, Shabazz Napier, even told reporters of his “hungry nights” in which he would go to bed “starving” because he didn’t have enough money to get food. With many student-athletes coming from impoverished backgrounds, it’s important to understand that their “free rides” don’t cover food and other necessities.
The fact that the 2019 NBA Draft’s first overall pick, Zion Williamson, had his jerseys selling in huge numbers during his time at Duke and he didn’t make a single cent is just downright unfair. This is the case for all student-athletes and will continue to be until 2023 when the law takes effect. Fair pay-to-play has been a hot topic issue for a long time now, especially as of late. LeBron James, his agent Rich Paul, NFL player Richard Sherman, and many more have shown support for the cause.
The state of California did pass the same bill in September, but this law will apply to all NCAA schools. It really does make one think though — what if this had happened years ago? What if it had always been the case? These are the top three “what if” scenarios regarding the newly-announced NCAA rule change.
Fair Pay-to-Play NCAA Rule: Top Three “What if” Scenarios
3. What if LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton played in the NCAA?
LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton both play professionally in Australia’s NBL with intentions of participating in the 2020 NBA Draft. Both were top-five high school recruits last year (Ball was 21st overall according to ESPN while Hampton was 5th). However, as opposed to going the traditional route (the NCAA), both players opted to play in the NBL.
A huge question circling the upcoming NBA Draft right now is how Ball and Hampton stack up to top NCAA prospects like Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and Cole Anthony. Draft prospects who played professionally overseas have tended to be hit-or-miss over the years — there have been success stories (reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic, and reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo) and failed projects (fourth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Dragan Bender, and seventh pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Emmanuel Mudiay). So, without getting to see Ball and Hampton square off against other prospective top picks, it becomes a lot harder for GMs to take the risk of picking them above the proven NCAA guys.
Ball and Hampton could be flops, following in the footsteps of Bender and Mudiay. At the same time though, their professional experience could pay off, as it has proven to for Doncic and Antetokounmpo.
It’s a huge dilemma for front offices, scouts, and fans alike at the moment. How do you compare two 18-year-olds playing professionally to college players? Do you take the risk and bet on their experience and physical gifts or trust the guys you’ve had more access to in the NCAA?
These questions may not be on everyone’s minds had the fair pay-to-play law been implemented years ago. Ball and Hampton could easily have chosen to play in the NCAA and we wouldn’t have this problem.
2. What if There Were No “One-and-Done” Players?
Since the NBA stopped allowing high school players to enter the draft, all the top prospects go one-and-done. In other words, as soon as they complete a college season, they leave for the NBA. Kentucky and Duke University have become the hotspots for one-and-done players. The most highly-touted high school players make a pitstop at a top school before declaring for the draft. Other, less sought-after prospects tend to stay in school and develop their skills until they’re noticed by NBA scouts.
These “one-and-done” players primarily leave for one reason — money. The NBA pays. The NCAA doesn’t. It’s as simple as that to these guys, especially the big names who are all but guaranteed to be making millions of dollars in the NBA. Especially to the guys who grew up without a whole lot of money, getting out of college and into the league is huge from a financial standpoint — they have the opportunity to go from struggling throughout their life into college to now being able to support themselves and their families.
However, NBA players who went to college often say that playing in front of college crowds is more intense and exciting than playing for NBA crowds. So, the question is: if the fair pay-to-play law was put in effect years ago, would Anthony Davis have played in the NCAA for more than his one year? Kevin Durant? Greg Oden? If top college players like the aforementioned guys and so many more had the opportunity to make even a tiny percentage of the kind of money that comes with their jersey sales and other uses of their name, image, or likeness, would they have stuck around for longer? Could we have seen more of Oden’s college dominance? Would infamous draft bust Anthony Bennett have had more time to develop his skills and now be an NBA superstar?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer to those questions. However, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that, had fair pay-to-play been active much earlier, we could’ve seen a huge decrease in the number of one-and-done players.
1. What if LeBron Played in the NCAA?
LeBron James is thought of by most fans to be one of the top two NBA players all-time along with Michael Jordan. However, unlike MJ, who played three seasons for the North Carolina Tarheels, James never played college basketball. He was appointed by Sports Illustrated as the “Chosen One” in just his junior year of high school and was easily the top high school recruit in the country during his senior year. James was chosen by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers with the first pick of the star-studded 2003 NBA Draft. He never looked back after that, winning three NBA championships and earning four MVP awards and fifteen All-Star nods.
LeBron was raised from humble beginnings by a single mother. So, naturally, when he had the opportunity to forgo college and make millions of dollars in the NBA, he made the smart choice — he took the money. He did have college offers in no short supply for both football and basketball though. People always wonder what would have happened if James had played in the NCAA. Would it have bettered or worsened his career?
Nobody knows, but if the fair pay-to-play rule had existed in 2003, we might not need to wonder. LeBron could easily have chosen to play at Ohio State for the Buckeyes and we’d have a whole new reality.