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NCAA Faces New Challenge To Its Structure

Chad Cooper via flickr

Don’t look now, but college athletics is immersed in yet another crisis that, depending on who you talk to, threatens its very existence.

Of course, given the real crisis we’re all facing, invoking the phrase existential threat is done advisedly. 

But a big challenge to the way things have been has suddenly emerged and it threatens to render college sports irrelevant. 


For over a century, the men who run the NCAA and the conferences have had a stranglehold over college sports and the young men and women who play them with hardly a thought for the wellbeing of their workforce beyond their ability to contribute to the bottom line.

Increasingly, however, those young men and women are rising up and demanding their rightful place in the decision-making process as well as a financial stake in the multi-billion dollar college sports industry.

And when those conditions aren’t met, those young athletes, or at least those with options, are getting out of the college business and going into business for themselves.

For example, three women with eligibility remaining took advantage of a loophole and bypassed their final season to enter the WNBA draft last week. All three were taken in the first round.

Of greater alarm to the college hierarchy is the decision of two male high school basketball players to bypass college entirely and play professionally here in the United States.

Jalen Greene, a 6'6'' guard from Fresno, California, widely considered the top potential college player, announced that he would play in the G-League, the NBA’s developmental league, next year, spurning a chance to play at the University of Memphis.

Meanwhile, Isaiah Todd, ranked in the top 20 among college prospects, passed up Michigan to join the G-League. 

Both Greene and Todd will reportedly make at least $125,000 year, with a chance to earn as much as a half million. The pair will almost certainly make themselves available for the following year’s NBA draft with a chance to make millions more.

Under NBA rules, a high school player must wait at least a year after his class graduates before he can come to the league. 

That so-called one-and-done rule has pushed a number of players, most notably Kevin Durant and Zion Williamson to spend an obligatory season in college before testing the professional waters.  

While the restriction is imposed by the NBA, it’s the colleges that have benefitted. Those one-and-done players are often the most gifted in their respective classes and putting them on the floor for a year at no pay and little beyond a scholarship does wonders for college basketball.

And since players become ineligible to play in college once they hire an agent, the NCAA does those players a double disservice by refusing to allow them to reconsider their decisions without giving up their eligibility. 

To be sure, college basketball won’t go into obscurity the way the USFL, the ABA or the World Hockey Association have, all distant memories in the sports history books.

But without a massive rethink of philosophy by the NCAA, the best young players will go straight to the pros, thus rendering the college game irrelevant, the next worst thing to obscurity. 

And that’s how I see it for this week.



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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.