Why you should care
Because the players are why we watch.
Forget Condoleezza Rice. Bring on LaVar Ball.
As the FBI continues to investigate an unseemly bribery scandal that is shaking college basketball to its core, the NCAA launched a blue-ribbon committee headed by the former U.S. secretary of state to study what ails the sport. But there is not one current college basketball player on the Rice committee.
So as the national championship game arrives, OZY decided to give the ballers a voice of their own — and at the NCAA Tournament South Regional in Atlanta, they spoke out in favor of a more permissive regime. Some would even appreciate a dose of pizazz from the controversial entrepreneur and father of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball who took younger sons LiAngelo and LaMelo to play professionally in Lithuania. “I like what LaVar Ball is doing,” said Kansas State guard Amaad Wainright. “Starting new leagues, finding a place for his kids to play.” So LaVar should be Czar of College Hoops, the Disrupter in Chief? “Yeah, why not?” Wainright said.
There is a lot of money being made by other people.
Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago guard
Job One of a players-approved Rice-Ball committee: Kill the “one-and-done” rule. Most of the scandal revolves around payments and other impermissible benefits to elite players coming out of high school, who are essentially forced into a year of college ball. While it’s the NBA’s call — and the league is considering altering its minimum age of 19, or one year removed from high school graduation — the NCAA commission should pressure the pros. “I think that would help a lot; it would be a lot easier just to let them go to the NBA instead of sitting around for a year when you don’t want to be there,” said Nevada’s Jordan Caroline. The sentiment was widespread in Atlanta: Free the players, and much of this scandal would evaporate. “If any kid is good enough to go get paid, they should go get paid,” said Sacha Killeya-Jones of Kentucky, which churns out one-and-dones on an assembly line. “The national consensus is pretty obvious.”
And if they do have to play in college for a year, should they still have to sit through Econ 101? “I feel like if anybody is good enough, they shouldn’t go to class,” said Loyola-Chicago junior Adarius Avery. “What’s the education if you are a one-and-done? What’s the one year going to do?” But many other players disagreed with letting elite players skate. “They have to be made to go to class, if they are there,” said Nevada’s Josh Hall. “They need to see the college environment. You never know when your career is going to stop, even for the short amount of time.”
One of the most distressing rules to college basketball players is the requirement that they sit out a year if they transfer schools. “I didn’t want to have to leave Iowa State; I was forced out of there,” said Nevada guard Hallice Cooke, who left after the coach who recruited him, Fred Hoiberg, departed for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. “If the coach can upgrade and up and leave after selling your parents a dream, telling you they are going to be there four years, it’s not fair. I plan on writing a tell-all book when my career is done. I want to tell kids and parents that go through these situations.”
This is not a story from a whiner. Cooke is a battler. His father died of cancer in 2017. His mother is in remission from breast cancer. Cooke went through double hip replacement surgery and dealt with a heart ailment. Still, there was no pity for him from the NCAA rulebook.
How about the freshman, sophomore or junior who is convinced he is going to be drafted … and isn’t? Players say those prospects should be welcomed back. “If you got a kid who’s a freshmen, and who’s been told he’s a second-round pick, supposedly, and he goes through the draft and doesn’t get drafted, what’s the kid going to do?” said Loyola-Chicago’s Marques Townes. “Now you are going to take away his college education.”
College athletes started getting a stipend in 2015, as many programs provide a “cost of attendance” allowance of approximately $2,000 to $6,000, depending on the school. But they are barred from endorsement deals. What about earning some extra money as pitchmen for the local car dealership, for instance?
“I wouldn’t be against that at all,” said Kansas State forward Makol Mawien. Clayton Custer, the star guard for the Cinderella team from Loyola-Chicago, smiled as he replied: “There is a lot of money being made by other people.” He did not have a chance to elaborate, as he was whisked off to the locker room for TV interviews. Still, the message was clear: The players know they’re undervalued, and they need to be dealt in.