SAN ANTONIO – It seems likely NCAA president Mark Emmert is not a frequent visitor to NBA Twitter, so it was understandable he appeared to have no idea the final blow had been dealt to the myth that young American basketball players have no choice but to roll through college basketball on the way to the pros.
“I personally think that there needs to be more room for individuals who want to pursue professional sports to be able to do that, particularly in basketball,” Emmert said Thursday, at his annual Final Four press conference. “There needs to be the ability for a young person and his family to say, you know, what I really want to do is just become a professional ball player.”
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Just 15 minutes before, Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports had reported that Darius Bazley, a 6-9 wing from near Cincinnati, would not be attending Syracuse next season and instead would sign to play in the G League, the NBA’s minor league. So how much more room does there need to be?
Emmert routinely disparages the NBA’s draft age limit and has campaigned against the rule almost since he got the job in 2010. Following the arrest by the Justice Department of four major-conference assistant coaches last autumn, he put together a commission of accomplished men and women to address the problems apparent in college basketball. It always has been apparent that lobbying for a change to the draft rule is part of their mission. Among the first people asked to speak with panel members were NBA commissioner Adam Silver and players association executive director Michele Roberts.
Emmert chose not to give much insight Thursday into the commission’s work, only reiterating a promise for swift action. This does not seem promising, because the NCAA appears to have left itself little choice but to move fast on the committee’s recommendations. What if they’re terrible?
He did give away, however, that the most necessary step – some sort of accommodation of player agents who’ve so deeply infiltrated the college game – might not be part of the proposed fixes.
How do we know this?
In a question presented to Emmert, Sporting News cited the fact that 9 of 14 past collegians whose names appeared in seized documents from ASM Sports as allegedly receiving payments in excess of $1,000 had played multiple college seasons before departing to play professionally. So why, Emmert was asked, would eliminating the “one-and-done” address solve the obvious problems?
He answered by saying he’d never contended it would “solve the problems” but acknowledged his belief it’s part of the problem and changing it is part of the solution. This was curious, and it seemed necessary to follow up with the question how it would it would solve the problem if multi-year players in greater numbers were engaging in the same behaviors.
“If you look at the motivation for agents,” Emmert said, “you want to sign somebody early so that you can be their agent and cash in on them when they go to the NBA.
“So to the extent that it’s already known who is going to the NBA and that’s clearly determined, then that just eliminates that component of the behavior.”
This raises the concern that if the NCAA does not alter its rules for agency representation of basketball players, but instead lobbies the NBA to reconsider its drafting policy, the substance of what has been revealed to be problematic in college basketball is unlikely to change. Remember, changing the one-and-done rule would deal only with about 1/3 of the athletes who supposedly were paid by outsiders while they competed in college. How would that represent meaningful change?
Although Bazley would like to think of himself as a pioneer of sorts, and his story will be presented as such in the same way as Brandon Jennings’ was when he went to play professionally to Italy in 2009, most prospects and the people around them recognize college tends to be a better deal for those who qualify.
The promotion an athlete receives by playing for an elite program on television all winter, then in the NCAA Tournament and possibly the Final Four, carries the potential for significant future financial rewards. Such players as Kevin Durant of Texas and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas benefitted significantly in terms of endorsements by raising their profiles in a single college season.
The option to play in the G League has been there all along, although only one prospect before Bazley – Rivals.com top-20 prospect Latavious Williams – had chosen that course since the introduction of the NBA’s 19-year age limit. After spending the 2009-10 season with the Tulsa 66ers, Williams became a second-round NBA draft pick but never played in the league.
Bazley has a higher profile because he already had been committed to two major programs, Ohio State and lately Syracuse, and had been chosen for the McDonald’s All-American game.
Some will view this as an existential threat to the college game, and the question was posed in that manner to Emmert – “Do you worry about that? – but Emmert might as well have been dancing as he answered. It is clear this is exactly what he wants.
“Now, I happen to think that going to college and experiencing everything that a college has to offer and still developing your skills and abilities and athlete is a pretty good deal,” Emmert said. “It’s hard to find better coaches, better facilities, better training, better development as an athlete than in a high-quality collegiate program. But that doesn’t mean that’s the right choice for everybody.”
Emmert did get that right. Too bad there wasn’t more.