SXSW: The Death of Amateurism

South by Southwest® (SXSW®) 2018 Panel

The Death of Amateurism featuring The Historical Basketball League (the HBL)

Sunday, March 22, 2018 • 3:30 – 4:30 pm • JW Marriott Salon C • Austin, Texas

A defining premise of the NCAA is that amateurism—that athletes are unpaid students—is an essential part of the appeal of college athletics. The upstart Historical Basketball League seeks to challenge that notion simply by paying players. Revenues generated by college sports are in the billions of dollars, shouldn't the labor producing all that value be paid for it?

The Historical Basketball League is the first national basketball league for college students that will substantially compensate college athletes based on their athletic ability beyond just a college education. The HBL is founded on a simple idea: college sports are popular because they are sports played by college students, and that NCAA-style amateurism is a means of excluding athletes from the financial benefits of the league, rather than as a benefit to fans or athletes. The HBL will be also be a financial boon to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that participate in the league and share (with athletes and investors) in the league’s profits. The HBL gives schools and athletes an option outside of the traditional NCAA model – providing a choice of whether to go "pro" while in college or to be amateur about it.

The HBL sees the NCAA’s insistence on “amateurism” as a market opportunity for a college-based basketball. By showing that compensating college athletes will not lead to a collapse of the industry, the HBL represents an opportunity to change perceptions of the market value of athletes and of the supposed necessity for “amateurism” and thus improve the well-being of college athletes.

Speakers: Kavitha Davidson, ESPN; Patrick Hruby, Vice; Ray Jackson, Ray Jackson’s Rising Stars/5th Wheel Agency; and Andy Schwarz, Historical Basketball League

> Kavitha A. Davidson is a writer for espnW and ESPN the Magazine. She previously wrote a daily sports column for Bloomberg View with a heavy focus on the intersection of sports and business. A native New Yorker, she attended Columbia University, where she was the sports editor of the Columbia Spectator.

> Patrick Hruby is an award-winning Washington, DC-based journalist who specializes in deep and insightful commentary, reporting, and storytelling about the intersection of sports and society, including NCAA amateurism.

> Ray Jackson, an Austin native, is a youth advocate, community leader and staff member at his alma mater, Lyndon B. Johnson High School. Jackson made college basketball history as one of the "Fab Five", a group of basketball phenoms that made history playing for the University of Michigan. In 2011, Jackson served as an Executive Producer of the ESPN Films documentary, "The Fab Five."

> Andy Schwarz is the CEO and Co-Founder of the Historical Basketball League (HBL). He is an antitrust economist with a subspecialty in sports economics. Notably, Mr. Schwarz was the case manager for the NFL’s economic expert in L.A. Raiders v. NFL and for Plaintiffs’ economic experts in O’Bannon v. NCAA and the economic expert for the Keller v. NCAA settlement class. He has testified to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce, participated on another U.S. Congressional panel on college sports, and has served as an economic expert in a wide variety of state and federal litigation. Mr. Schwarz has been featured on ESPN, in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Bloomberg News, Sports on Earth, and USA Today. He is a frequent contributor to Vice Sports and Deadspin and has written for Slate,,, and

SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The event, an essential destination for global professionals, features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of networking opportunities. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.

The Real Scandal: We Don't Fairly Compensate College Athletes

Answer this quickly: if a young man in high school develops something special, patents it, and commercializes it, licensing it to a major state university and makes $100,000 in royalties, how do you feel about him?  Do you cheer his ability to turn his talents into financial success?  How would you feel if he then went to the same state university on scholarship, combining his education with his business partnership?

Scandalized yet?

Well according to the NCAA, you should be.  At least if the “patented” talent is sports related.  In the wake of recent revelations from Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports that dozens of high school athletes received payments to bring their talents to the elite schools of Division I.[1]  And the NCAA’s response was to call this an “affront,” “systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now,” and the work of “unscrupulous parties” the NCAA must “clean up.”[2]

The Historical Basketball League (the HBL) couldn’t disagree more.

At the core, the concept of NCAA “amateurism” can be thought of as a wealth transfer.  College sports are valuable, but while Mark Emmert can earn nearly $2 million for his role in commercializing the sport, if an athlete negotiates a contract to share in the revenue he helps to generate, he can be banned for life.  The result is everyone else gets a slice of the pie that the athletes help create.  The scholarship the athlete gets is valuable, but it’s a far cry from what the true market value of those services would be if the rules did not insist that the surplus go to Emmert and other non-athletes when the market outcome would send it to the athletes themselves.

The side payments revealed by Yahoo! Sports start to paint a picture of what a star collegian might be worth.  For example, as alleged by Yahoo! “Dennis Smith, who would go on to play at North Carolina State in 2016-17, received $43,500 to … $73,500 in loans” though the loans only had to be paid back if Smith did not sign with the agency that made the loan.  Others allegedly received smaller amounts, ranging from $26,136 for Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead, to $16,000 to LSU’s Tim Quarterman, to $10,000 to future number one draft pick Markelle Fultz.

This is where you should perform a character check on yourself.  If you hear those figures and you think the scandal is that athletes sought compensation for the services, you’ve missed the point.  If you hear those figures and think the black market nature of the system meant that even the athletes who sought compensation were still underpaid, then you might be ready for the future of college sports.

That future is the HBL.  The HBL will be a professional, collegiate club-sports league operating as a for-profit corporation.  The HBL will employ college athletes to play a full summer season of basketball, and those athletes will also be enrolled as full-time students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that will make up the HBL’s membership.  These will be real students getting paid real money to help their universities generate revenue, no different than when the chemistry department pays a chemistry student to work on a new drug patent during the summer semester.

Because the HBL will be a club-sports league, the NCAA and NAIA have no regulatory power over our corporation or the HBCUs’ participation in the HBL, and so the “amateurism” ethos that treats college athletes’ labor, who are predominantly black, as unworthy of full and fair compensation, while allowing white administrators to reap the benefits will be turned on its ear.  With a summer basketball schedule and full-time employment, athletes will no longer have to choose between their education and athletics or between fair compensation and collegiate competition.

From a purely business point of view, what the NCAA wants to do is wonderful for the HBL.  We’re hoping the NCAA keeps insisting on ostracizing anyone who thinks college athletes are worth more than a fixed price scholarship.  Every time they say “you earn too much” we say “come earn what you’re worth with us.”  Every time they say it’s a scandal that the future number one draft choice earned $10,000, we say, you’re right, he should have received $100,000.

The problem with Amateurism is that it makes people confuse capitalism with controversy, business with badness.

It’s time for America to recognize that the real scandal is that athletes have to hide what they are worth or accept a fraction of their value.  The real scandal is that we hear about athletes receiving some portion of what they are worth and we think it’s a problem that must be cleaned up, rather than the first step in righting a wrong.

If you’re ready to right that wrong, come join us at today.  We’re looking for investors, big or small, for business partners, for coaches, for athletes, and for fans.  We’d like you to join us in making the world a little bit more just.  Are you ready to tell the NCAA that their days of exploiting athletes in the name of protecting athletes from exploitation are over?

Amateurism is the scandal; the HBL is the solution.





The HBL at the Black-Student Athlete Summit

On January 17th, the HBL spoke at the Black Student-Athlete Summit at the University of Texas at Austin. CEO Ricky Volante and Chief Strategist Andy Schwarz were joined by Dr. Joseph Cooper (University of Connecticut) and Daron Roberts (the Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation at the University of Texas at Austin). The HBL would like to extend a special thank you to the event organizer Dr. Leonard Moore for allowing us to be a part of this great event. 

Here is the panel discussion in its entirety (the panel starts at 08:02:04):