There are concerns about the NCAA’s new requirements allowing men’s basketball players to sign with an agent during the NBA draft process while maintaining their college eligibility.
The measures—which notably now include requiring agents to have a bachelor’s degree—have drawn criticism from an attorney who has worked on numerous NCAA eligibility cases, at least one agent and NBA All-Star LeBron James via Twitter, among others.
“Frankly I think some of the efforts to control student-athletes and coaches, I think some of those actions are illegal,” Alabama-based attorney Don Jackson said Wednesday. “But now they’re attempting to engage in conduct where they’re going to assert economic control over people that they have no real right to regulate.
“The entity that actually has the responsibility of certifying contract advisers in basketball would be the National Basketball Players Association, not the NCAA.”
The NCAA rule permitting Division I men’s players to obtain an agent yet still return to school after withdrawing from the draft was part of recommendations from the Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball, which was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation into the sport.
The change took place last August, with the first wave of early draft entrants allowed to sign with an agent certified by the NBA players union in the spring. The NCAA added an additional layer of restrictions that control who players can sign with while preserving their college eligibility when the governing body created its own certification program that was announced this week.
The Indianapolis-based NCAA released a statement Wednesday night, saying that it “as a higher education organization… values a college education and continues to emphasize the importance of earning a degree.” It also noted that Rice’s commission had recommended that the NCAA’s certification process “should be more stringent.”
“While different and distinct,” the NCAA said, “our rules taken together, which is the manner they were meant to be examined, provide a clear opportunity for our student-athletes to receive excellent advice from knowledgeable professionals on either the college or professional path they choose.”
The NCAA certification rules still require the agent being certified by the NBPA (for at least three consecutive years and be in good standing).
The application process now also requires agents seeking the NCAA’s certification to take an in-person examination and go through a background check. Agents must also pay a $250 application fee and an annual $1,250 certification fee separate from any fees and requirements for the NBPA certification.
Jerry Dianis, a Maryland-based agent, believes the regulations are “overkill” and amount to unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.
The NBPA does “a pretty solid job of vetting prospective agents,” Dianis said. “You’ve got to take a test, you’ve got to do different things, background checks. The way they did it the first time I think is sufficient—where if you’re an NBA-certified agent, that should be sufficient.”
The NCAA requirements wouldn’t affect marquee one-and-done stars like No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson out of Duke or Coby White out of North Carolina, players who could sign with an NBPA-certified agent lacking NCAA certification because they plan to stay in the draft. It will impact early draft entrants seeking feedback on their NBA prospects while maintaining college eligibility; those players could only work with agents who have received NCAA certification.
James was one NBA player who felt the educational requirement targeted his agent, Rich Paul—who does not have a bachelor’s degree. Paul has become one of the most powerful agents in the NBA with a star-studded client list that includes James along with his new Los Angeles Lakers teammate and former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis.
James made that connection, tweeting Tuesday night “#TheRichPaulRule” then followed 2 minutes later: “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop! They BIG MAD and Scared. Nothing will stop this movement and culture over here. Sorry! Not sorry.”
NBA all-star point guard Chris Paul also weighed in. He didn’t mention Paul but criticized the educational requirement in a tweet that included: “Some life experiences are as valuable, if not more, than diplomas. Y’all need to rethink this process.”
Dianis agrees it’s unnecessary, noting that a college degree offers no guarantee that someone will behave ethically.
“There are people with walls full of framed degrees from Ivy League institutions that commit malpractice,” Dianis said. “So a bachelor’s degree isn’t going to make a difference. . I think by the looks of things, Rich Paul seems to be giving some pretty damn good advice.”