For years we’ve seen the argument for paying college athletes. Some have criticized the NCAA for profiting off the likeness of its biggest stars. In contrast, others support the idea of players representing some of the most storied programs in NCAA history. Recently, this problem has been particularly evident in college basketball, as the sport has produced an array of stars within the last decade. While most college basketball stars have taken the traditional college approach to make it into the NBA, there is now an alternative option for high school stars to think about before committing to play on the NCAA.
NBA Gateway Program
As it has been mentioned for years, it’s time for the elite high school basketball prospects to consider an alternative to make it to the NBA. In 2018, the NBA’s minor league affiliate, the G League, offered a comprehensive professional path towards the NBA. The G League announced the creation of Select Contracts for the 2019-2020 season. With the season on an effective hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, many high school stars have considered the G League path opposed to the one-and-done college route.
The G League’s pathway program took flight earlier this year when California high school star Jalen Green, the No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2020 ESPN 100, announced his decision to forgo college basketball to become the pathway’s first participant. Green will join the G League under a “Select Contract” that includes special benefits compared to college basketball. According to several sources around the G League, the program includes a salary of $500,000-plus and a 1-year professional developmental program (mentorship & life skills training) for elite prospects like Green. Following Green’s decision to enter the pathway program, five-star recruit Isaiah Todd signed to play with the G League next season. Todd, No. 13 in ESPN’s 100 for 2020, de-committed from Michigan in hopes of starting his professional career early.
With Green and Todd joining the G League, it paves the way for many other top high school prospects to skip out on college and become professional athletes.
Paying the Athletes & More
So, what are some of the benefits that the G League can offer an elite high school prospect? A list of benefits includes:
• A salary payment from $125,000 to upwards of $500,000 with free living accommodations, medical insurance, and transportation arrangements.
• Ability for prospects to legally earn endorsement money to offset any salary complications
Elite high school basketball prospects receive massive amounts of interest from college programs annually, and in many cases, illegal benefits in order to persuade those prospects to attend their universities. In 2018, an FBI investigation led to the corruption of more than 20 Division I men’s college basketball programs. The documents were published by Yahoo! Sports in February of 2018. The most recent case of NCAA violations came in 2019 when it was reported that top high school prospects, James Wiseman had taken illegal benefits in order to commit to the University of Memphis. In almost every case like this, players take these benefits to help aid their families. By taking the G League route, players can legally capitalize on their image and likeness, unlike players in the NCAA. Select Contracts given to prospects would also decrease their incentive to receive illegal benefits to attend a certain university.
In the past, there have been several prep stars who began their professional careers overseas while receiving shoe contracts from major brands. Former high school stars Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay, for example, played in Italy and China as they received shoe contracts from Under Armour. Had the G League developed a pathway program back then, both could’ve stayed in the United States while also receiving significant money from a major shoe company without being thousands of miles away from their families.
Endorsements & Competition
Elite prospects will also have a chance to receive endorsements from agents, which can financially benefit their families. In many cases, these prep stars come from economically needy families, and an influx of cash could provide the players and their families with much-needed help right away. While some argue that giving 18-year-olds that amount of money that early in their lives is a bad thing, I differ from that point of view. The G League stated that they would be open to including life skills training for those under Select Contracts, such as financial advising and planning. With these added like skills, players under the Select Contracts would be better informed as to how to handle the money they have and would be making once they reached the NBA. This would also help them make better financial decisions in the future, as many professional athletes are often uneducated on how to handle their money once they reach the pros.
• Prospects have the opportunity to be developed by NBA-hired coaches while playing in an NBA style league with traditional NBA rules (vs. a college system/season and regulations).
• Players have an opportunity to focus strictly on basketball and receive valuable time with coaches that will improve their game for the NBA.
• Prep players are given a chance to compete against NBA players who are sent on an assignment specifically to the G League.
At the start of the 2019-20 NBA season, 42% of the players on NBA rosters on Opening Night have had G League experience. Prep stars will receive valuable experience against many NBA players as opposed to college players, where an estimated 21% of college players actually make it to a professional league. With NBA players sent back and forth from the NBA to the G League, the G League can arguably be considered as the second-best basketball league in the world. With the talent disparity between the two leagues, the G League offers prospects a more challenging season than college basketball. While most college players will never play professionally, almost all of the players in the G League excelled when they were in college, and many of them were some of the brightest stars that college has ever seen.
NBA Experience & Lifestyle
• G League coaches are often promoted to the NBA and also may have college coaching experience.
Prospects will receive a chance to be coached by some of the best head coaches in basketball. For example, Toronto Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse, spent six years coaching in the G League before making the transition to the NBA. Using Nurse as a primary example, there are plenty of terrific head coaches in the G League for elite high school prospects to learn from.
• Players get a glimpse of an NBA lifestyle both on and off the court as they will travel across the United States.
• Pathway program offers an online education system through Arizona State University. While the education program isn’t required, players can take part in it if they choose so.
With an opportunity to be introduced to an NBA lifestyle, prospects will have a more authentic and accurate chance to see what the NBA is really like. In the G League, there are fifty games per season, with twenty-four home and away games, as well as two games at the annual G League Showcase. In college, teams typically play around twenty-five to thirty-five games per season. The G League would also represent the NBA season more accurately, as there are 82 games in the NBA per season. In many cases, we see rookies hitting the so-called “wall” in the NBA as their bodies begin to breakdown since they’re used to a more spread-out college season that is only 1/3 as long as an NBA’s.
Experience in the G League would also show prep stars the business side of the NBA. More specifically, the G League presents prospects with the true definition of being a pro. That would mean valuing preparation, time management, attitudes in the locker room, work ethic, and not taking things for granted. Compared to college, players can get cut any time based on their performance on the court in the G League.
Many supporters of college basketball argue that the use of the NCAA and its universities provides student-athletes with a chance to receive an education, even if a prospect only chooses to stay for a year before going pro. But isn’t the idea of the one-and-done surrounded on the fact that players have a one-year requirement from high school to enter the NBA Draft? Let’s address the education opportunity by asking how much those elite prospects are actually learning in their one year if their primary goal is to make it in the NBA. The pathway program allows prospects to continue their education to their liking while also giving them the freedom to only focus on basketball and achieve their potential prior to the draft.
• Every G League game is shown on the official G League app, and some games are even broadcasted on NBA TV (ex. The G League Showcase). Imagine the coverage the G League could get if a top high school prospect commits to the G League over the NCAA.
• Prospects would be easily accessible to NBA Scouts on a nightly basis, and coverage would be more likely in the G League than in college.
The College Experience
While entering the G League instead of college has its advantages, there are several advantages that college basketball possesses. One advantage that college basketball gives its players is the pressure of the college season and atmosphere, and how that can translate to the NBA. For example, every college game matters in the regular season, as seeding for March Madness also takes into account each team’s record from the regular season. That’s not to say that each G League game doesn’t count for something, because players are essentially auditioning for an NBA roster spot. But the pressure of the college season can benefit players in their transition to the NBA. A typical college game can include upwards of 20,000 fans in an arena compared to the G League, where sometimes there may be crowds of less than 2,000 people in attendance. The pressure and atmosphere of playing in front of 20,000 people may prepare a prospect better for the NBA more than one with a few thousand in attendance.
Another advantage that college basketball gives its players is involved with the media. Depending on the popularity of the program, college basketball almost guarantees a high number of media and press in attendance before and after each game. Players will get to experience the full effect that the media can have on them, as they are interviewed in press conferences after games by analysts and sportswriters. Whereas in the G League, there might be occasions where there isn’t anyone covering the games. Relating to media coverage, college basketball offers one of the most popular sports events of all time in March Madness. Each year, the NCAA makes billions off of their popular end-of-the-season tournament. Millions attend the tournament, and many more watch the games at home.
College basketball also remains unmatched in terms of its marketing value versus the G League. The NCAA already has national television contracts in place, as well as nightly updates from ESPN programs, and investments from major shoe companies who sponsor university programs. The G League, in contrast, only televises a few games a season on major television networks. Very rarely are G League teams even known by the average basketball fan, whereas players can gain an enormous fan base if they decide to play college hoops.
With the atmosphere and exposure in college basketball, many people could argue that the college experience is one of the best four years of one’s life. So just imagine the quality of life for a star student-athlete at a major division one program compared to a member of the G League. In college, they are almost celebrities compared to the average student, as they travel on charter buses and flights and often have state of the art facilities. College basketball also provides many players with a place to call home, even after entering the NBA. For example, many players are celebrated alumni of their respective universities, and may also have some facilities named after them. Simply put, there isn’t an experience quite like college.