The amended “Rich Paul rule” still hurts the NCAA’s reputation on getting things right

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Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated

For decades, the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) has been wrought with controversy. Primarily, this controversy has focused on the continued exploitation of student athletes. Last week’s ruling regarding student athlete representation was no exception. On August 6th, the NCAA announced that any agent who seeks to represent college basketball players as they navigate their National Basketball Association (NBA) draft options must, among other criteria, have a bachelor’s degree. This ruling prompted Lebron James and his agent, Rich Paul, to call out the NCAA for its alleged discriminatory and exploitative ruling.

Paul, who is a black male and does not have a college degree, opined that this ruling limits the platform for agents who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those who have alternative career trajectories. However, James went further to express that the NCAA was specifically targeting Paul; ultimately dubbing the announcement as the “Rich Paul rule”.

Amid the backlash from Paul, James, and other sport figures, the NCAA decided to amend the rule to include agents without colleges degrees provided they are in good standing with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).

Although the NCAA’s amendment of the rules provides a more inclusive platform regarding college basketball player representation, this latest flub speaks volumes to an already open call for the organization to reform its policies or succumb to them. The NCAA, a non-profit organization, who prides itself on being dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes, has been staunchly criticized for generating over a billion dollars in revenue while college athletes remain unpaid beyond scholarships.

Since 2006, high school basketball players were ineligible to jump straight into the NBA. Instead, they had to wait one year after their high school graduation to become draft eligible. This saw an up rise in high school athletes playing one year of college basketball before declaring for the NBA draft. Dubbed as the “one-and-done” era, this ruling essentially controlled how student-athletes navigated their professional careers. However, the nuances of how funds earned through tournaments such as March Madness have prompted student-athletes to take career matters into their own hands.

There has been a burgeoning trend of elite high basketball players who have decided to skip college and play professional basketball overseas prior to becoming eligible for the NBA draft. While the NCAA claims that their rules are there to protect current and future student-athletes, many claim that rules restricting the eligibility of when high school players can enter the NBA draft is exploitive in nature.

Paul, who is one of those critics of the NCAA’s “one-and-done” rule, is also spearheading the platform for high school athletes to find alternatives paths to the draft. In 2018, former five star basketball recruit, Darius Bazley, initially committed to Syracuse University before ultimately taking a year off in preparation for the 2019 NBA draft. During this time, Bazley signed with Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports. With this deal in place, Bazley secured an internship at New Balance worth $1 million dollars to gain insight into the business of sport. While Syracuse head basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, viewed Bazley’s choice to decommit from the university as a mistake, Paul saw it as an empowerment tool for athletes who wish not to be used for their talents without compensation.

While Paul and others have expressed that receiving an education in college sports is of value, they insist that compensating student-athletes would prevent them from getting taken advantage of or breaking current NCAA rules. The NCAA recently settled on $208 million-dollar lawsuit which declared that the organization could not restrict compensation to athletes regarding their education. However, the NCAA remains adamant about not paying current athletes.

The State of California recently forwarded “The Fair Pay to Play Act” which, if it receives final approval from the California governor’s office, could fundamentally change the business model of the NCAA. However, current NCAA president, Mark Emmert, warned legislatures that if they were to approve the act, California schools could face the possibility of not participating in post season play.

California state Senators Nancy Skinner and Steven Bradford introduced this act because she says that current NCAA rules remain heavily unfair to students from low-income communities and to female athletes who have fewer opportunities to play professional sports than men. If passed, California student-athletes would be eligible to sign contracts with several endorsers including video game publishers, apparel companies, sporting good entities, and auto dealers.

Still, the NCAA along with several California universities expresses that such a deal would not only confuse current student-athletes and would present a plethora of challenges to the collegiate sport model.

But the current collegiate sport model is what is negatively affecting current student-athletes, particularly, African-American males that participate in high-revenue generating sports. While the NCAA scrambles to change rules that negatively affect student-athletes, agents such as Paul will continue to usher a more dynamic approach student-athlete empowerment that will eventually over shadow the more static rules the governing body of collegiate sport utilizes.

As mentioned, receiving an education as a student-athlete is a privilege and should be taken seriously. However, the NCAA has been known to also say that they are not liable “to ensure the academic integrity of the courses offered to student-athletes at its member institutions”. So how can an organization that constantly expresses that student-athletes are students first and athletes second essentially hold no regard to how well you are educated?

University of Southern California professor, Shaun R. Harper, explained that black male athlete graduation rates continue to sink in comparison to their white male counterparts. He further explained that while black male athletes make up around 2 percent of the undergraduate population at top sport schools, they make up around 60 percent of the participants in high-revenue generating sports. While alarming, it is not surprising that these statistics remain consistent year after year.

For Paul and other individuals that work to upheave the NCAA sports model, it represents a chance for student-athletes to take control of their own upward mobility. As the NCAA continues to take hits to its already fragile reputation in handling student-athlete exploitation, the trend for athletes to skip college altogether remains slow but steady. Current all-star high school players, R. J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball, have already committed to skipping college to play professionally in the Australian NBL as they prepare for the 2020 NBA draft.

For the NCAA, the reputation for the future of the organization will rely heavily on how much they commit to the integrity of education and how much they amend their obsolete rules concerning perceived athlete exploitation.

Written by

Assistant Professor and Advisor, Institute for Business Ethics and Sustainability at LMU. Sport is Life! Golden Girls fan! Twitter: @ShaunMarqSpeaks

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