News was reported the G League would be providing a new alternative path for one-and-done level players on Thursday. The aftermath of ESPN’s reporting was a mix of hyperbole and fun. Despite people laced with their best intentions when discussing the path-to-pro route, the actual impact it will have on college basketball will be minimal.
For those unaware, the G League isn’t doing all that much new from its previous rules, though the bump in pay is significant. No longer being offered chump change, the NBA’s minor league will offer ‘select’ players $125,000. Not only that, but there’s the idea of scholarships through sponsors potentially being in the deal.
Outside of the pay, and the possibility of scholarship, players already had this option. That’s not to undercut the significance in the new pay-scale, as it is a large deal.
And yet, while the base number seems high, if the current trial happening has taught us anything, the level of players who would be chosen for this route can do better. These shoe companies were apparently paying large sums of money for guys who weren’t even projected to be first-round selections… imagine what an actual lottery pick must cost.
It’s important to note that, no matter how one feels about the archaic NCAA model, a player who chooses the G League path will not only receive a large sum of money, but will be free to chase endorsements has he deems appropriate. At the same token, shoe companies have been allegedly paying top prices for talent who aren’t at a one-and-done level, so why bother go chasing money that’ll be taxed?
(Aside: There’s a conversation to be had how this undercuts the NCAA’s attempt to kill off AAU basketball, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Anyway, there’s several reasons why this won’t hurt college basketball all that much. Starting with the obvious first, nothing ever hurts college basketball because nothing matters.
There’s also the idea many players won’t qualify for such a new alternative. While the prep-to-pro era got out of hand late, the NBA appears set on protecting both the G League and players for themselves by only allowing a ‘select’ type of player to be allowed the chance to join this new movement.
In turn, while we don’t yet know the tangible number, this will avoid the pitfalls that are guys who have no business turning pro, you know, turning pro.
Hell, pretend this select number is something crazy high like 12 players. Not all 12 players will take this opportunity to make money in a hurry and bypass college hoops, either.
“Bu why?” An astute reader asks.
Sometimes exposure can lead to exposure. Many NBA scouts believe players are ill-equipped to handle the life of a G League professional. That, sure, their natural abilities can get them through a portion of the season, but their teenager bodies aren’t matured enough to handle a 28-year-old day after day after day.
The idea here is simple. If you go back to the prep-to-pro era, with exceptions of course, a large percentage of players had to sit (more accurately – barely play) a few years before ever making an actual impact. While the G League is clearly not the NBA, the theory remains the same — bodies of humans not yet fully matured simply can’t hang with grown men.
If someone buys into the slightest portion of that, then one can agree a player’s draft stock could get hurt by getting lost in the G League shuffle instead of belittling other boys on collegiate hardwoods.
Let’s not forget to mention G League life is hard. It’s a growing league, but falls much closer to MLB’s AA system than it does the AAA affiliates. Bus rides, bad hotels, etc. Almost everything afforded to a one-and-done player at the collegiate level, including facilities, would be a better option than the sort the G League can offer.
We can make this far simpler, though. Remove how many players will/won’t take this route from the equation… because it doesn’t matter.
College basketball’s allure is not its on-the-court-product. The stars of the sport are the coaches and programs. While having the best players on the planet would serve it better, college basketball would do just fine without the top 12 (or so) guys in the country each season — though, again, I would bet solid money the number of players who make the jumper never reaches that number under the G League’s current format.
What would happen to Duke if R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and company had the option this season and took it instead of playing for Coach K? The Blue Devils would have focused on the next tier of players, landed them, and die-hard Duke fans wouldn’t care to know the difference between the top rated player in the 2018 recruiting class and the 13th.
The sport has never been about the on-the-court stuff. It’s always been about nearly everything else, even the flawed stuff. From the pageantry, to fanbases in-fighting, to whatever, if college basketball fans were ever that worried about the stuff happening on the floor to the point it would change how they view it, they would have long ago become NBA-only fans.
That’s not a slight, either. While there’s certainly fans who enjoy the NBA and college basketball, there’s also a divide placing people as NBA or CBB-only fans. The latter grouping like college basketball for, honestly, whatever their reason, and a large part of that has to do with it just being “not the NBA.” Intentions of that feeling pushed far to the wayside, this grouping of fans won’t care if whoever chooses to play for the Canton Charge instead of the Kentucky Wildcats.
There’s a chance, way down the line, the G League can kill off the current version of college basketball. But this model just ain’t it. It is a decent alternative, however, and the more options these kids have the better.
For now, no one needs to clutch their pearls. Not much will change. And if it does, it probably won’t matter to those who watch the sport all season anyway, or to those who parachute down on it come Selection Sunday.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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