NCAA's 'Rich Paul Rule' shows its contempt for basketball players

Dan WetzelColumnist

Elitist and paternalistic, controlling and confused, the NCAA has come up with some new rules for basketball agents who might represent a player contemplating turning pro.

The NCAA says its athletes must use only an NCAA-certified agent while considering whether to enter the NBA draft or return to college ball. If not, the player will lose his eligibility, permanently.

For the agent to gain that NCAA approval, he or she must, among other things, have been certified by the National Basketball Players Association for at least three years, have a bachelor’s degree, provide seven years of address history and come to Indianapolis to take an in-person test of some sort.

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LeBron James declared on Twitter that the rule was designed to stop his agent, Rich Paul, who lacks the bachelor’s degree that he clearly doesn’t need to effectively do his job (his client list also includes Anthony DavisJohn WallDraymond GreenBen Simmons and others).

In actuality, it’s more broad based than that, if only because Paul is unlikely to be trying to lure some borderline second-round draft pick as a client. He’s too big for that … degree or no degree.

Really this speaks more toward the general feeling in college athletics that elite basketball players are dumb rubes who need to be protected … and anything that helps college coaches (who make millions off of them) control the process (and possibly keep them from the NBA) is a good thing.

LeBron James says a new NCAA rule targets his agent, Rich Paul (R). (Getty Images)
LeBron James says a new NCAA rule targets his agent, Rich Paul (R). (Getty Images)

The bachelor’s degree requirement alone is illogical. Getting a diploma has no correlation to whether someone can be a good agent, particularly whether someone can gather accurate draft information, which is the skill that is most germane to this situation.

It also doesn't signify business ethics. Neither does passing some test or having seven years of housing history or experience with the NBPA. There are an untold number of shady agents who had a wall full of degrees inside their lavish homes that bilked clients for money.

It’s hard to imagine any well-meaning group even coming up with such a concept. And some test taking in Indy? It’s bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, regulations upon regulations.

We’re talking about navigating the NBA draft process, not getting a commercial pilot’s license.

Players should be able to hire whomever they want if they are trying to figure out their future. The decision should be between the player and the agent. The NCAA should have nothing to do with it.

There is also the fact the NCAA will argue to the ends of the federal court system that the players are not employees, just students who attend its schools and play on its teams. These are just amateurs, just volunteers. They are definitely not "workers."

Yet the same NCAA will place outrageous restrictions like this on them?

If someone is truly an amateur, then they should have more freedom, not less.

Instead, the NCAA acts like these amateurs should be protected from big, bad outside forces that want to cheat them. The NCAA doesn’t trust its own student-athletes and their families to make educated and rational choices for themselves. They need Daddy NCAA to do it for them.

And yes, some will make poor choices or sign with a bad person. So what? This is America. People start businesses doomed to fail. They get married and then divorced. They add Rutgers to their conference. Having the right to make the wrong decision is part of being an adult.

Mainly though, this is backward thinking, and goes back to one thing – basketball players make the NCAA a lot of money.

Does the NCAA care this much about babysitting other athletes? Of course not.

Basketball players are only allowed to consider whether to enter the NBA draft before a set deadline and now they can only hire NCAA-approved people to help them make that decision.

Yet hockey players are allowed to be drafted by NHL teams before then, and only then, deciding whether their best route is to turn pro or return to college.

That’s right, hockey players – who like basketball players are scholarship college athletes overseen by the NCAA – can actually get drafted and still play college hockey. Don’t like the team? Don’t like the depth chart? Didn’t get picked high enough? Didn’t get picked at all?

Come to college.

Cale Makar took advantage of his options and parlayed that into the Hobey Baker Award in college before jumping to the pros where he was drafted in 2017. (AP)
Cale Makar took advantage of his options and parlayed that into the Hobey Baker Award in college before jumping to the pros where he was drafted in 2017. (AP)

The Hobey Baker Award winner for the best NCAA hockey player this year was Cale Makar. In 2017, Makar was drafted fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche only to spend two years attending the University of Massachusetts before turning pro after leading the Minutemen to the NCAA championship game and then (under NHL rules) joining the Avalanche for the playoffs.

So the NCAA is willing to ban a basketball player who uses the wrong (per the NCAA) adviser when trying to decide whether to enter the NBA draft but a hockey player can actually be drafted and it’s no big thing?

Got it. Makes total sense.

This is some deep-seated stuff and the NCAA should look in the mirror on it, if only because the more restrictive rules don’t serve anyone’s interest except college basketball coaches who think the rule will give them a better chance of convincing a player to stay in school. Coaches want to deal with the agents they know and the NCAA’s new rules are designed to legitimize those agents while snuffing out up-and-comers.

Yet anyone who thinks college coaches always act in the best interest of their players, well, the Southern District of New York has some wiretaps for you to hear.

Rather than worry about bachelor’s degrees and standardized tests, the NCAA should afford basketball players the same rights as hockey players – let them see where they get drafted, if they are drafted at all, and then let them decide whether college basketball is the best option.

Never ban them. Never.

Besides bringing, or keeping, more talent in the college game, it would be a sign the NCAA actually respects the player’s intelligence, respects their family and respects the significance of a very difficult choice.

If it's good enough for hockey players why isn't it good enough for basketball players?

You don't need a bachelor’s degree to know the answer.

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