The NCAA certification process for agents is supposedly designed to protect players from unscrupulous people who might take advantage of them. But recent rule changes have rightly come under fire, because they would limit players’ choice of representation and would make it even harder for a new generation of black agents, including Lynn, to gain a foothold in a difficult industry.
The NCAA is a billion-dollar business built on the free labor of college athletes. Its expression of concern for the well-being of its basketball players is downright hilarious.
Last week, the NCAA circulated a memo saying that agents need to have bachelor’s degrees to represent college basketball players who are on the verge of turning pro. This requirement was nicknamed the “Rich Paul rule,” in reference to the superagent Rich Paul, the founder of Klutch Sports Group and the head of sports at United Talent Agency. Paul, who was recently on the cover of Sports Illustrated, represents the NBA stars LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, and Anthony Davis. Paul does not have a college degree. He got an early break because of his friendship with James and has used that leverage wisely, becoming a major power broker in the NBA.
Protecting players isn’t the highest priority for the NCAA, which appears to care most about preserving its billion-dollar business. Paul poses a threat because he put together a deal for the Oklahoma City rookie Darius Bazley last year that allowed Bazley to skip college and instead get paid $1 million for a three-month internship with New Balance, the shoe company, while training for the NBA. The last thing the NCAA seems to want is for players to feel empowered—to come to the realization that the NCAA needs them more than the other way around.
In an opinion piece published in The Athletic yesterday, Paul wrote: “Unfair policy is introduced incrementally so people accept it because it only affects a small group. Then the unfair policy quietly evolves into institutional policy. I’m not sure what the technical term is for that because I didn’t finish college, but I know it when I see it.” You didn’t need a bachelor’s degree to see that these NCAA guidelines could disproportionately affect black players and black agents.
At least the degree requirement for agents—unlike most of the NCAA’s bad ideas—didn’t last. Soon after Paul’s op-ed appeared, the organization backpedaled, saying in a statement yesterday, “We have been made aware of several current agents who have appropriately represented former student-athletes in their professional quest and whom the National Basketball Players Association has granted waivers of its bachelor’s degree requirement. While specific individuals were not considered when developing our process, we respect the NBPA’s determination of qualification and have amended our certification criteria.”