This past Thursday, the NBA G-League announced that it will offer “select contracts” worth $125,000 to elite prospects as an alternative to going through the one-and-done route.
This will allow recent high school graduates who are at least 18 years old but not yet eligible for the NBA Draft to skip out on college and the NCAA’s strict amateurism rules for an instant professional career and all its benefits.
Though most fans supported this rule change, others, such as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, found some faults with it:
“A top HS player would be wiser to take a year away with a trainer prior to entering Draft than wandering into G-League with far more fully developed men. Most pre-college teens will be overwhelmed there. Wouldn’t be a pre-draft showcase. Still, it’s an alternative worth examining.”
A top HS player would be wiser to take a year away with a trainer prior to entering Draft than wander into G-League with far more fully developed men. Most pre-college teens will be overwhelmed there. Wouldn't be a pre-draft showcase. Still, it's an alternative worth examining. https://t.co/l2YC9dp4LK
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 18, 2018
First of all, how many high school players can even afford to take a year away with a personal trainer?
During the 2005–2006 season, Black men comprised 58.9 percent of NCAA Division I basketball. For many of these athletes, basketball is a way out, a path to financial freedom. They don’t have money to spare on a personal trainer.
The G-League would offer paid training in high-class facilities. And the young, impressionable players would be surrounded by veterans who know the game and its culture. Ultimately, they’d be forced to mature faster in order to keep up with the high level of play.
In addition, as Meek Mill says, “Scared money don’t make no money.”
These are elite players we’re talking about here; future, inevitable first-rounders looking to get paid TODAY. Despite Woj’s concerns, these “pre-college teens” will most likely be more than happy to be “overwhelmed” for $125,000.
Not that entering a professional league as an 18 year-old recent high school grad isn’t overwhelming; I’m sure it can be. But again, the G-League is offering “select contracts” only to elite players, those who have been playing the sport at an incredibly high level their whole lives.
And let’s be real: One year doesn’t make a difference if these young players planned on going the one-and-done route, anyway. At 18 or 19 years old they aren’t ready for the G-League, but at 19 or 20 they’re men enough to play in the NBA?
Until 2005, players were actually allowed to go straight from high school to the NBA. They were known as “prep to pros” high school kids who chose to forgo college altogether and found themselves selected in the NBA Draft. Many of them have even become household names–LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, for example.
Though college is an experience that allows young people to enhance their knowledge of the world and develop into adults, it’s simply not for everybody.
And it’s ridiculous the way kids are forced into universities to train for a career in sports under the pretense of receiving an education.
According to the article “The Myth of the ‘Student-Athlete’” by Gary Gutting, “in the NCAA’s own 2011 survey, results showed that by a wide variety of measures, football and basketball players identify themselves more strongly as athletes than as students, gave more weight in choosing their college to athletics than to academics, and, at least in season, spend more time on athletics than on their studies.”
In addition, “Academic criteria for college admission are far below those for other students” and “realistically, given the amount of time most such athletes devote to their sports, they would have to be academically superior to the average student to do as well in their classes.”
Despite these facts, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a nonprofit organization that regulates athletes in university, swears that it is doing a great service to athletes, especially to those who come from impoverished neighborhoods where the idea of college never goes beyond the imagination – simply because those athletes get degrees.
Their argument leaves out the fact that athletes are often clustered into majors that do little to prepare them for life after college, mainly because those majors are effortless enough for them to focus on their sport.
Why even have the term “student-athlete” if, for the most part, the “student” half of it is shoved aside and ignored? According to the NCAA, their primary purpose is to protect what it calls the “student-athlete.” The term, then, is supposed to “conjure the nobility of amateurism, and the precedence of scholarship over athletic endeavor.”
However, according to Taylor Branch in the article “The Shame of College Sports,” it was crafted by the first executive director of the NCAA, Walter Byers, in the 1950s to escape workers’ compensation insurance claims for injured athletes.
“The term was also deliberately ambiguous. That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies,” Branch explains.
Unbeknownst to Byers, however, the image of labor and capital would end up being associated with student-athletes, no matter what name he gave them.
“I have doubts about how many top players will go this route. Some, yes. But G-League is full of early connecting flights, long bus rides, small gyms. It isn’t glamorous. Big-time NCAA ball still has the trappings of exposure, packed houses, private jets. You’ll get paid there too,” Woj tweeted on Thursday.
I have doubts about how many top players will go this route. Some, yes. But G-League is full of early connecting flights, long bus rides, small gyms. It isn't glamorous. Big-time NCAA ball still has the trappings of exposure, packed houses, private jets. You'll get paid there too
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 18, 2018
In the last sentence of his tweet, Woj subtly shades the NCAA and exposes its profit-driven nature.
“The key phrase here, of course, is the last sentence,” Bleacher Report’s Tyler Conway writes. “It’s one that is both not at all subtle and the absolute truth, as we continue to see with a number of top programs being exposed in a federal investigation into college basketball.”
Players who choose to sign G-League deals wouldn’t have to worry about incidents like this. Instead, they’d be able to accept sponsorship deals, hire agents, and profit off their likeness without having to deal with the NCAA’s restrictive amateurism rules.
While Woj’s argument makes sense, it doesn’t take into account the majority of these players’ backgrounds and financial situations.
When you graduate high school and your mom is struggling to make ends meet, a $125,000 contract sounds much better than being funneled into a college athletic program that doesn’t guarantee legitimate payment.
And it’s definitely better than being subjected to the NCAA’s rules, which claim even receiving a pencil from a university staff is considered an “extra benefit” and as grounds for suspension.
Either way, the decision of whether to develop their skills in college or in the G-League will fall on these players. It’s not for us to decide for them what’s more important, money or an education. However, it is on the owners and managers to remember that these are kids they’re dealing with – not commodities – and they should be treated as such.