Does the NCAA sit around trying to create ill will and cynical laughter?
The collegiate sports governing body could not have done a better job if it had tried -- if a little working group had gotten together and said, “What can we do today to get LeBron James to full-on blast us … and have most right-thinking people agree with him?”
What’d they do? They sent a letter to agents certified by the NBA Players Association noting new certification procedures for agents or “any individual who desires to solicit an enrolled student-athlete to enter into an agency contract or attempt to obtain employment for an individual with a professional sports team …” Not surprisingly, the letter was leaked Tuesday to multiple outlets, including ESPN.
In many ways, what it decrees is a step forward, and acknowledging the real world. Once a player’s season is over, this player with eligibility remaining can sign with a certified agent, enter into the NBA draft, and still withdraw from the draft and return to school.
Maybe it makes sense that such agents must be certified by the players’ association for at least three years, but they also must “pass an in-person exam at the NCAA office in Indianapolis.” (Really? Certification isn’t enough? An in-person exam?)
There was another mandate:
“All applicants are required to have a bachelor’s degree.”
Stop the presses.
Who doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree? Rich Paul. Lebron James’ agent. Also, agent for new James teammate Anthony Davis, and Ben Simmons, and John Wall, and more. The man who has arguably -- or maybe inarguably -- become the most influential agent in the sport.
James immediately tweeted Tuesday: “#TheRichPaulRule.” As of Wednesday afternoon, it had been retweeted nearly 12,000 times. And James kept tweeting: ”Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop! They BIG MAD and Scared. Nothing will stop this movement and culture over here. Sorry. Not sorry.”
“If you’re going to miss, miss big," said one former longtime college administrator about this directive requiring a degree.
The rest of it would have been fine, the former administrator said. Certification should be all that matters.
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the NCAA wasn’t going after Paul … that the person who suggested this was too clueless to realize what they were doing. Maybe they thought they were keeping runners for agents away from players. (Good luck.)
By any definition, this isn’t just bad optics. It’s wrong.
You know who isn’t required to have a degree to deal with college basketball players? College basketball coaches.
Maybe head coaches or assistants are hired on the condition they complete their degree work, maybe not.
The NCAA isn’t going to stop agents from trying to get clients. That’s the nature of their business. Trying to regulate it, all right, good luck. Trying to regulate it without having many former college basketball stars chime in agreeing with James would have been the smart thing to do.
James retweeted Evan Turner and Wilson Chandler and Chris Paul, who had tweeted: “I COMPLETELY disagree with the NCAA’s decision. Some life experiences are as valuable, if not more, than diplomas … Y’all need to rethink this process. This is crazy!”
It wasn’t just players who noticed. James retweeted Kevin Hart: “The world is so afraid of ground breakers … This is beyond sad & major B.S…...Keep Shining @RichPaul4 …. This only makes you stronger….what you have built is unbelievable champ….#TheRichPaulRule … Shame on you NCAA”
In truth, Rich Paul doesn’t need to sign NCAA undergraduates. This won’t impact his business one iota. Which is why it’s quite possible the NCAA was merely being clueless, not malevolent. Or if it was being malevolent (toward Paul), that was even more clueless.