Yesterday, in its ever increasing (yet equally poor) attempt to “clean up” college basketball following the FBI trials, the NCAA reportedly enacted a new rule about the agent certification process.
And woooooooah buddy did it cause an uproar on the internet.
The rule, which was first reported by Jon Rothstein, calls for agents who want to represent players testing the NBA Draft waters – aka, mostly fringe, second round picks – to reach minimum qualifications, such as having a bachelor’s degree and taking a test at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.
Seems simple enough.
Yet since the rule was reported it has created upheaval. Smart writers simply called the rule unenforceable and short-sighted. It went to another level, when many assumed – incorrectly, I might add – that the rule was intended to be a direct shot at LeBron James’s agent Rich Paul, who does not own a bachelor’s degree.
This rule has nothing to do with Rich Paul. Which we’ll get to in a second.
Instead, this rule is the classic NCAA tale, one in which they try to do something good, yet somehow screw it up and it turns into a PR nightmare. The NCAA is in essence Lenny from Of Mice and Men, always trying to hold and nurture things, only to crush them into dirt instead. Only unlike Lenny, which used brute strength to crush that little mouse, the NCAA uses sheer stupidity.
Regardless, with so much talk about the rule, and with the simple concept that – at least in theory – it could impact college basketball (since we have dozens of players test the draft waters every year) let’s take a deeper dive.
Here is everything you need to know about the new agent rule, as it currently exists, why it won’t work, why it has nothing to do with Rich Paul, and what’s next.
Aaron, what is this new rule?
Let’s start with the basics.
As all of you already know, for years, players have been allowed to test the NBA Draft waters while maintaining their college eligibility. However up until last year to keep that college eligibility, they weren’t allowed to use an agent to help them through that process.
That changed this past spring, with players allowed to seek the counsel of agents throughout the draft process. While college coaches didn’t necessarily like it (agents are trying to recruit their players after all) it seemed as though it was mostly a success in year one. Players got more information from different sources. And for the most part, the players who tested the draft waters who really didn’t like their draft stock (aka EJ Montgomery, Kerry Blackshear, Devon Dotson etc.) all returned.
Still, despite the success of the rule in Year 1, the NCAA decided yesterday to put in place new rules limiting what kind of agents could represent players testing the draft process.
Again, this is only for players testing the draft process. Last year it wouldn’t have applied to Zion Williamson or Ja Morant or PJ Washington. It would have applied to guys like EJ Montgomery, Kerry Blackshear and Devon Dotson.
Sources: The NCAA has officially added criteria for agents who wish to represent student athletes testing the waters for the NBA Draft.
– Bachelor's Degree
– Certified with NBPA for a minimum of three years
– Take an in-person exam at the NCAA Office in Indianapolis
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 6, 2019
Per Rothstein, the agents needed to have three minimum qualifications:
- A) Bachelor’s Degree
- B) They had to be certified with NBPA for a minimum of three years
- C) Take an in-person exam at the NCAA Office in Indianapolis
Seems simple enough.
Little did anyone the firestorm it would quickly create.
Wait, let’s backtrack. Why did the NCAA alter this rule in the first place?
The bad thing about all the backlash that the NCAA has taken over the last 24 hours, is that this rule was put in to place for the right reasons: It was designed to protect fringe NBA Draft picks (most of the kids testing the waters) from getting bad advice, from uniformed parties.
Again, to be abundantly clear, this rule only applies to players testing the NBA Draft waters. Once a guy like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant or PJ Washington decided to declare for the draft and stay, this rule wouldn’t apply to them.
Instead, what the NCAA is trying to do, is to make sure that the players who should consider retaining college eligibility – aka the guys who might not make very much money as a professional basketball player the following season – are protected. They’re trying to make sure that before a kid who might not get drafted stays in the NBA Draft, they are getting good, sound, smart advice from people who are qualified to give it.
In other words, this rule isn’t in place to stop a guy like Rich Paul from doing his job. It’s in place to stop a 24-year-old Christian Dawkins type from getting in a player’s ear and convincing them that they will be drafted higher than they are, just to get them to leave college.
That’s what I’ve been saying for two days, and it was confirmed by others (including Jeff Goodman) today.
Again, to reiterate what I said last night, the rule has NOTHING to do with Rich Paul. It's in place to keep fringe draft picks from getting bad advice from unqualified people (think Christian Dawkins). Please dont let the facts get in the way of a good narrative though https://t.co/A9BqWlSXid
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) August 7, 2019
One NBA guy on new NCAA rule: “The Rich Paul stuff is silliness. He reps like 1 or 2 guys per draft and has lawyers working for him. They are trying to protect kids from all these other clowns. You should see the runner/workout guy/uncle types we get. This isn’t about Rich Paul.”
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) August 7, 2019
Again, the rule was put in place for the right reasons. Even if its turned out so terribly wrong.
Why did this story blow up the way that it did? And why are people calling it the “Rich Paul Rule?”
The story blew up for a few reasons. The first was that as many plugged in writers pointed out, the rule is flat out unenforceable for so many different reasons. We’ll get to those reasons in a minute.
But first we have to hit on the bigger question: Why is everyone calling this “The Rich Paul Rule?” And how the hell did LeBron figure out a way to throw himself into the middle of this conversation?
Well, put simply, Rich Paul, the most well-known agent in sports, a man who has a client list that includes LeBron, Anthony Davis, John Wall, Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, Darius Garland and others, doesn’t have his bachelor’s degree. Because he doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree, that means he doesn’t qualify under the NCAA’s new rules.
Of course, as soon as people picked up on this, they started calling it the “Rich Paul Rule,” and claiming the NCAA is trying to hold Rich Paul back from doing his job. LeBron James himself chimed in, because let’s be honest: LeBron loves throwing himself into the middle of pretty much every conversation, ever.
??????????? Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop! They BIG MAD ? and Scared ?. Nothing will stop this movement and culture over here. Sorry! Not sorry. ???
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 6, 2019
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 7, 2019
But, as I’ve said for the last 24 hours, while it makes for a cute narrative that everyone is out to get LeBron and his agent, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The bottom-line is that while the optics look bad, I’d venture to guess that no one in the NCAA even knew that Rich Paul wouldn’t qualify under their criteria. Be honest, did you know as of yesterday that Rich Paul doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree? I didn’t and I cover sports for a living. Anyone who follows this stuff closely knows that Paul is not only qualified to do his job, but is extremely good at it.
Again, I’m guessing it never even crossed the NCAA’s minds. They’re not trying to stop Rich Paul. They’re trying to stop the next Christian Dawkins, a guy with no qualifications to be helping kids with what could be a life-altering decision.
A few more thoughts on the Rich Paul element of this story
The idea that this somehow turned into an NCAA vs. LeBron/Rich Paul debate is laughable to me. It really is.
First of all, and this is a serious question: What would the NCAA have to gain by going after Rich Paul? What would they gain by holding him back? Absolutely nothing. Rich Paul is one of the most well-established agents in the world, with a client list of potential NBA All-Stars and lottery picks. Heck, if the NBA can’t even slow down Rich Paul – which they can’t, by the way – why would the NCAA even bother?
To take it a step further, it’s not even like Paul represents the kinds of players the NCAA is trying to protect – fringe second round picks and undrafted guys. His client list is a who’s who of NBA All-Stars and lottery picks.
Sure, there is the occasional second round pick (like Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker this year) but he isn’t even pursuing the type of guys that this rule would apply to.
Finally, why is this rule unenforceable?
So, I already mentioned it a few times, but yes, this rule is unenforceable. I just don’t see any way that any agent – whether they meet the bachelor’s degree requirement or not – will fly to the NCAA’s offices and take a random test, by a governing body (the NCAA) that has no control over them.
If anything, as The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie pointed out yesterday, this rule will actually have the reverse effect that was intended: If a player wants to work with an agent that isn’t NCAA certified they’re going to. Which means that rather than testing the draft waters, they will simply declare and go pro and give up their eligibility. Seriously, if Rich Paul wants to rep you but he doesn’t qualify, are you really going to say no to him to protect your NCAA eligibility? Probably not.
You know what this is going to do? Push more kids to declare for the draft without testing the waters. If you’re talking to Rich Paul (who doesn’t qualify based on this criteria), you’re just going to jump instead of keeping your options open. It’s really ridiculous.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) August 6, 2019
To take it a step further, I also wonder this: What if there isn’t a single agent who flies to Indianapolis to take the test, which I think is a real possibility. What happens then? Is everyone who declares for the draft now permanently ineligible to play college basketball?
Yeah, I’m guessing there won’t be very many people, from coaches, to players, to parents, to agents and TV execs who will be happy about that.
So, what’s the solution?
Honestly, this is just the latest example of the NCAA taking a good premise – protecting the players – and making it needlessly complicated. All they had to say was “You have to be certified by the NBA” and be done with it. The fact that they added all the needless qualifiers (having a bachelor’s degree etc.) just opened them up for unneeded criticism.
Unfortunately they are now being criticized. Even worse, this is just the latest example of the NCAA putting in rules without truly understanding how the business end of basketball actually works for players and agents. You think any agent is going to fear the NCAA, and sprint to Indianapolis to get approved? You think any player is going to be stopped from going with the agent they want?
And again, I wonder what the future of this rule holds, and if the rule is eventually altered. Not because of the backlash. But because there’s way to actually enforce it. Again, if not a single agent flies to Indianapolis to take this test – and I suspect they won’t – what is the NCAA going to do? Make hundreds of players permanently ineligible.
Unfortunately, this is typical NCAA: Have your heart in the right place, but go about things the wrong way.
That’s exactly what this rule is.