The NCAA, continuing its bid to desperately cling to the archaic model of amateurism for as long as it possibly can, sent out a memo to NBA agents on Monday attempting to reassert its control over whom men’s college basketball players can hire when thinking about going pro. While a rule change in 2018 allowed players considering the NBA Draft to retain the services of an agent without torching their future eligibility, a revision for next year significantly tightens the language around which agents can be NCAA-approved. The original rule covered all NBPA-certified agents, but the new one limits some of those formerly acceptable options:
The rule, on its face, does look more-or-less innocuous for almost any established NBA agent—though traveling to Indianapolis to take an exam sounds like a pain in the neck. But for Rich Paul—whose clients include LeBron James, Anthony Davis, John Wall, Draymond Green, and Ben Simmons—this new rule puts him at an obvious disadvantage when trying to represent new players. That’s because Paul got his start when he was 21 years old and had a chance meeting with 17-year-old LeBron James, and never attended college. Clearly, he didn’t need it to become successful, but this superfluous requirement specifically works to exclude him from opportunities at representing any college player who’s on the fence about leaving.
What the rule means is that any college basketball player who’s thinking about potentially going to the NBA and wants to use Paul services will completely shut the door on returning to college. In practice, that means Paul can still attract the top lottery picks, who have likely made up their mind about the NBA before their college season ever starts. But for players who are dramatically more attached to playing at school—say, his client Miles Bridges—there’s no way to sign with Paul unless you’re absolutely sure you want to go pro, and aren’t worried about a poor evaluation from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee.
There’s a rational interest, somewhere around the idea of these rules, in making sure that college kids don’t get taken in and scammed by some charismatic, unqualified yahoo off the street. But in making the rules so severe—again, you have to travel to Indianapolis?—this just feels like the NCAA throwing its weight around to try and prove it can still control its workers. By scoring a point off one of the game’s most famous and controversial agents—who doesn’t have much recourse to fight back—the NCAA can make it clear to everyone once again that this old-fart organization won’t just disappear quietly in the face of inevitable change.
Update (9:03 p.m.): LeBron has thoughts.