In a play for high school-aged athletes seeking an alternate route to a professional basketball career, sports media company Overtime on Thursday announced the launch of a new league, which will pay players six-figure salaries to forgo their high school and college athletic careers.
The league, Overtime Elite, or OTE, will target and employ top-ranked players ages 16 to 18, offering them health insurance, signing bonuses and the ability to profit from their name, image and likeness, in exchange for their NCAA eligibility.
“Elite athletes are trying to hack the system,” OTE commissioner and president Aaron Ryan said in a Zoom interview. “[OTE] is a global super league and an academic accelerator to address three things: basketball development, academics . . . [and] what’s really the game changer for us in addition to those things is economic empowerment.”
The league expects to make its first signings once high school basketball seasons conclude across the country. OTE plans to feature up to 30 players when its inaugural season begins in September.
Those players will live, train and play in a single city, which has yet to be selected from two undisclosed finalists. They will be divided into teams which will regularly swap talent for games against prep schools and international competition.
OTE’s educational offerings will place a “special emphasis on developing the life skills necessary to manage and sustain a successful pro sports career,” supplementing more traditional courses with those focused on “financial literacy, media training and social justice advocacy.”
Overtime CEO Dan Porter was one of the earliest members of Teach for America and became its president in 1994. He drew on his past connections to assemble OTE’s educational advisers, which include Kaya Henderson, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, the nation’s largest public charter school network.
“Many athletes aren’t properly prepared for what it really means to go pro,” Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, who serves on OTE’s board of directors, said in a news release. “We need to do a better job of empowering the next generation of players and setting them up for success. OTE is leading the way on that front by offering players a comprehensive route that fully develops the athlete – not just basketball skills, but also education, economic empowerment and building their own brand.”
The push to empower athletes has intensified in recent years as federal and state lawmakers pressure the Indianapolis-based NCAA to consider loosening its grip over student athletes and their ability to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness.
College-aged players looking to profit from their labor have found more avenues to circumvent the NCAA in recent years.
In 2018, the NBA G League introduced its professional path for top high school players. Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, two of the top four prospects in 247 Sports’ 2020 high school class rankings, both play in the league.
Previously, top recruits who sought to skip college but still play competitively ventured overseas for a year, sidestepping the NBA’s 19-year-old age requirement. LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, top 25 prospects in the 2019 class, played in Australia’s National Basketball League during the 2019-20 season and were drafted third and 24th overall last summer, respectively.
Ball’s father, LaVar, launched the short-lived Junior Basketball Association in 2018. The league recruited top high school players by offering a salary and a chance to leapfrog college en route to the NBA. It was discontinued after one season and reportedly cost some players regular paychecks, a sizable percentage of their jersey sales, and their college eligibility.
Ryan said OTE will protect players from such misfortunes.
He said all players are guaranteed a minimum salary of at least $100,000 per year, will receive full health care and disability insurance coverage, and will be guaranteed up to $100,000 for college tuition should they decide to end their pursuit of a professional basketball career.
The league said it will enable players to pocket revenue from trading cards, video games and sales of custom jerseys. They can also sign direct sponsorships with sneaker companies.
Overtime was founded in 2016 and rose to prominence by publishing basketball highlights and interviews. Ryan said its videos garner almost two billion views per month.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern was one of Overtime’s earliest investors before his death last year. The group now includes Anthony and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant. Although the league has not announced its schedule or how to watch games, Ryan envisions the organization will grow into something similar to the most prominent soccer academies in countries like Spain and Portugal.
“The biggest opportunity is economic empowerment, after all these young men played tens of thousands of hours of basketball for free,” he said. “Overtime was in a unique position to try to connect with these athletes in a new way and so that’s why we’ve launched OTE.”