Amateurism Is A Con: The Tragic Consequences of the NCAA’s Broken System

Failing to Keep College Athletes Safe

The NCAA was founded in 1906 to “keep college athletes safe.”[1]  If you consider that too dated, the NCAA’s “About Us” page currently states that they are “a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.”[2]  Let that sink in – by their own statements, the NCAA was created and exists for the exclusive purpose of the well-being of college athletes.

This summer alone, three college football players – Jordan McNair (University of Maryland), Darius Minor (University of Maine), and Braeden Bradforth (University of Kansas) – tragically passed away during or shortly after pre-season workouts.  From 2000 to 2016, 33 players died while participating in NCAA football, only five of which can be attributed to collisions involving physical trauma.[3] As Patrick Hruby explains in Junction Boys Syndrome these deaths are not the only result of reckless, egotistical coaches and trainers going unchecked:

“[T]hree University of Oregon football players were hospitalized for several days after workouts that reportedly included up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up-downs… Or take University of Iowa strength Chris Doyle. In early 2011, an offseason workout meant to determine ‘who wanted to be on the team’ and consisting of 100 squats in 17 minutes followed by sled pushes left 13 football players hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis...Three months after the incident, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz named Doyle his first-ever ‘most valuable coach of the year.’ Today, he’s the highest-paid strength coach in the sport, with a base salary of $725,000.”

This sadistic style of training football players never had a place in college athletics, and with access to all of the information and technology available in 2018,  its continuation is negligent and arguably criminal – not to mention that there is no scientific proof that it improves athletic performance or mental toughness. Maryland head football coach D.J. Durkin does not deserve to coach a team in the California Penal League, let alone high school or college football players ever again.  Neither do the coaches and trainers at any other university implementing such reprehensible “tactics.” As recently as this weekend, ESPN ran a feature article on Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly’s “chaos workouts,” including the incorporation of strobe lights into strength workouts.  Yet the NCAA has remained silent in all of these situations.

Instead, the NCAA is keeping busy with its Commission on College Basketball, and handing down suspensions to 13 athlete-students at UNC for selling their special-edition, football team Jordans.  Guess how many times the NCAA has stepped in to punish a university for risking the health and safety of college athletes?

A quick search will reveal that the NCAA has never punished a university for issues related to player health and safety, so how exactly is the NCAA “dedicated to the well-being” of college athletes?  Short answer: they are not. They have completely and utterly failed at their stated mission. Even one death would be too many, but they are averaging at least two per season over the last 18 years.

If you look through the NCAA’s Health & Safety page, it is reasonable to think that they are employing every precaution to protect their athletes.  With phrases like “Collaborating on Best Practices,” “Keeping Hearts Healthy,” “Ensuring Independent Medical Care,” and “Preventing Injuries,” there might even be people at the NCAA that believe their own con.  The problem is that the NCAA merely issues health and safety “guidelines,” with no accountability. Again, the NCAA has never issued a penalty to a university for violating these “guidelines.”

The answer to why they only issue “guidelines” is simple: if the NCAA begins to actually follow through on their stated mission and enforce health and safety rules, then they create legal exposure if things go wrong.  The status quo creates a strong legal defense, to quote The Big Easy: “We didn’t see nothing. We was home watching TV.”  By issuing guidelines and not rules, the NCAA can blame the institutions for not monitoring their coaches and trainers and following the guidelines, claim they did everything they possibly could, and therefore (mostly) avoid culpability.

This is a grave and tragic element of the con that is “amateurism.”  The status quo risks the lives of athletes, while the NCAA masquerades as a protector offering the opportunity of a lifetime – an opportunity that makes the NCAA rich while exploiting athletes and their families by ensuring they do not share in the financial largesse the athletes generate.  The NCAA passes the responsibility onto its member institutions while sitting in their Indianapolis compound built from the billions of dollars in revenue they generate off the backs and lives of the very players they fail to protect. If the NCAA truly believed in its stated mission, it would immediately issue new rules related to player health and safety, begin conducting investigations into any institution or individual suspected of violating those rules, and punishing them for their infringements.  That is how you keep college athletes safe.

The Historical Basketball League, on the other hand, will not shirk its responsibility.  Prior to recruiting a single player, the HBL has already partnered with a premier sports and entertainment insurance brokerage firm to provide insurance policies to protect each of our athletes.  Rather than allowing coaches and trainers to run rampant, the HBL protects its athletes because without them, we are nothing – something the NCAA long ago forgot.

Why Are Unpaid Players Held to a Higher Standard than Multi-Million-Dollar Coaches?

On Wednesday, the nation watched as The Ohio State University failed spectacularly.  From the minute that Mary Jo White was brought in to lead the investigation, the fix was in.  Her history of wrist-slapping is long-standing.[4] As the Ohio State investigation progressed, we heard terms like “time served” in describing Urban Meyer’s ultimate punishment – something that we found to be morally repugnant.  Meyer is the highest paid public employee in the State of Ohio. He was not serving a jail sentence as the “time served” statement would imply – instead, he was merely given the corporate equivalent of a toddler’s time out. And he did in fact breach his contract for “failing to adhere to reporting obligations and neglecting to personally comport himself in a manner consistent with good sportsmanship and with the moral, ethical and academic standards set by the university.[5]”

Now, this is not to say that Urban Meyer should have been fired – people breach employment contracts all of the time and are not ultimately fired.  But Meyer certainly had an ethical and/or moral responsibility to take the necessary action to fire assistant coach Zach Smith long before this summer.  Meyer often preaches about respecting woman and even has signs posted in the Ohio State locker room demanding it from his players, yet when he had the chance to apologize to Courtney Smith, he instead apologized to “Buckeye Nation,” as did Athletic Director Gene Smith.  In the end, Meyer will only miss three games this season. That is fewer games than the UNC football players who sold their Jordans (four games), fewer games than Todd Gurley for receiving $400 for signing mini football helmets (four games), and fewer games than Terrelle Pryor for swapping Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos (indefinite).  

How is it that the NCAA holds its unpaid players to a higher standard than its multi-million-dollar coaches?  We suggest two possibilities and neither will paint a pretty picture…

  1. While The Ohio State and Urban Meyer may not be adding any fans nationally in the near future, more people than ever will likely tune into their games to root against them.  Locally, “Buckeye Nation” will be as rabid as ever and certainly will not be deterred from packing into the Horseshoe every Saturday this season. The sea of scarlet and grey will not shrink because of this, so why should the NCAA feel obligated to step in, when their bottom line might actually be enhanced by the situation?

  2. Take a moment to consider the racial composition of college coaches versus the players (revenue-generating sports only).  Approximately 65% of athlete-students are black.[6] Meanwhile, approximately 90% of football coaches and 78% of basketball coaches are white.[7]  How is that possible? There is no legitimate explanation that does not include racial bias at best and flat out racism at worst. Do these players that the system so heavily relies on to make money suffer from memory loss and immediately forget everything they know about the game once they graduate or otherwise leave school?[8]   Are they not fit to lead as coaches despite many serving as leaders or captains when they played? Or could it be that once the system is done with their bodies, it spits them out and brings in the next class of chattel? The implicit or explicit racism of the NCAA’s “amateurism” shields these (almost exclusively white) coaches, while punishing the (predominantly black) players.  

Meyer is not the only person to blame here either, and at least when given the chance he finally apologized to Courtney Smith, albeit two days late.  Gene Smith, Zach Smith, and their respective lawyers doubled down – Gene Smith’s lawyer went so far as to say “[t]wo men who don't deserve the public flogging but who agreed to take one for the team so this great University can move forward with all of its amazing athletic and academic initiatives,” while Zach Smith’s lawyer took to victim blaming.[9]  And again, the NCAA sits silent.

The HBL is Ending the Con

You may wonder why this commentary has been entirely focused on football when the HBL is a basketball league.  At the HBL, we know that “amateurism” is a con, and that con is not limited to any one sport. While we are starting with basketball, one of our goals is to prove that college sports do not need “amateurism.”  Some might claim that they love watching college sports for the “purity” or to watch players “play for the love of the game,” but we cannot ignore that the current corrupt system generates over $10 billion annually for the NCAA and its member institutions.  The “purity” left the building the minute that Walter Byers created the word “student-athlete” in the 1950s and began commercializing college sports at the expense of the athletes.   Or maybe even in 1895 when the University of Pennsylvania opened Franklin Field, a stadium that seated 30,000 people at the time for the nation’s top football program.

The con shields the wealthy NCAA and its wealthier members, while exploiting the athletes.  In June 2020, the con will be over and “amateurism” will be exposed for what it truly is. We at the HBL cannot wait for when this new day comes.

For more information, contact press@hbleague.com and visit hbleague.com.

 

[1] See http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety.

[2] See http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/ncaa-101/what-ncaa.

[3] See Patrick Hruby, ‘Junction Boys syndrome': how college football fatalities became normalized, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/aug/19/college-football-deaths-offseason-workouts.

[4] Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter sharply criticizing White’s time at the SEC, see https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2015-6-2_Warren_letter_to_SEC.pdf.  Or look at White’s investigation that resulted in the pathetic decision to only fine Jerry Richardson for his disgusting behavior towards women and minorities.

[5] See Michael McCann, Why Didn't Ohio State Fire Urban Meyer? Breaking Down Its Decision From a Legal Standpoint, https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/08/23/ohio-state-urban-meyer-suspension-contract.

[6] See Putting Lipstick on a Pig: The Con that is “Amateurism,” https://www.hbleague.com/blog/amateurismisacon.

[7] See Congress wants to know how the NCAA is making its diversity pledge a reality, https://www.sbnation.com/2017/10/5/16429368/congress-bonamici-mark-emmert-to-know-how-the-ncaa-diversity-pledge-rooney-rule. Also see Mixed Grades on Race, Gender Report Card for College Sports, http://diverseeducation.com/article/111180/.

[8] No, that only happens when a coach needs to “forget” damning information during an investigation.

[9] See Zach Smith and Gene Smith's Attorney Sound off on Ohio State Investigation, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2792444-zach-smith-gene-smiths-attorney-sound-off-on-ohio-state-investigation. Also see Zach Smith's Attorney Issues Statement Attacking Courtney Smith, https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/08/22/zach-smith-attorney-statement-following-urban-meyer-suspension.

Alston/Jenkins Documents

Today, Judge Claudia Wilkin unsealed the Direct Testimony Declarations of Dr. Kenneth Elzinga, Dr. James Heckman, and Dr. Bruce Isaacson. Because of the importance of this case to college sports, the Historical Basketball League is carefully tracking it. 

If you are interested, click here to access the documents. 

Added documents:

  • Plaintiffs' Opening Arguments
  • Defendants' Opening Statement
  • Direct Testimony of Dr. Dan Rascher
  • Direct Testimony of Dr. Roger Noll
  • Direct Testimony of Hal Poret
  • Rebuttal Testimony of Dr. Dan Rascher
  • Deposition of Jonathan Angler 
  • Deposition of Mitch Barnhart
  • Deposition of Karl Benson
  • Deposition of David Berst
  • Deposition of Jay Bilas
  • Deposition of Rebecca Blank
  • Deposition of John Bohannon
  • Deposition of Bob Bowlsby
  • Deposition of Mark Emmert
  • Deposition of Carolayne Henry
  • Deposition of Lynn Holzman
  • Deposition of Jeff Hurd
  • Deposition of Alec James
  • Deposition of Afure Jemerigbe
  • Deposition of Nicolas Kindler
  • Deposition of Leo Lambert
  • Deposition of Kevin Lennon
  • Deposition of Mark Lewis
  • Deposition of Duane Lindberg
  • Deposition of Judy MacLeod
  • Deposition of Bernadette McGlade
  • Deposition of Harvey Perlman
  • Deposition of Todd Petr
  • Deposition of Erik Price
  • Deposition of Wally Renfro
  • Deposition of Greg Shaheen
  • Deposition of Mike Slive
  • Deposition of Gene Smith
  • Deposition of Jon Steinbrecher
  • Deposition of Jon Stephens
  • Deposition of John Swofford
  • Deposition of Craig Thompson
  • 'Rog Designations
  • Declaration of Karen Hoffman Lent in Support of Defendants' Opening Statement, and Exhibits A-D

Note: this post and the Drive Folder will be updated as additional Files are made available.

Putting Lipstick on a Pig: The Con that is “Amateurism”

“Amateurism” is a Con.  

Earlier this week, thirteen players at the University of North Carolina were suspended for selling shoes they received for participating on UNC’s football team.  The same UNC that avoided any penalty from the NCAA for shuffling their players through sham courses – the same UNC academically ranked 30th in the country according to US News.  This is the same UNC whose head football coach, Larry Fedora, posited two weeks ago about the lack of a causal link between football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), then predicted the fall of football would bring on the fall of the entire country – the same coach that has the audacity to say his players made “poor choices” and are “being held responsible” for those choices.  This right here is the con.

The NCAA’s archaic and draconian rules prescribe punishment of players for selling (for approximately $600) shoes that they were unlikely to wear anyway.  Meanwhile, these very same rules shielded UNC, the institution, from any punishment for offering sham courses because the courses were available to everyone, not just the athletes they dumped (i.e., forced) into the courses to maintain academic eligibility – all while generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from men’s basketball and football.

What is most interesting about these punishments is that the football players received these shoes under the pretext that they were a form of compensation “incidental to their athletic participation” – in other words, if they were not playing football at UNC, they would not have received them.  I use that phrase because it is precisely the same standard invoked in O’Bannon to justify the NCAA’s practice of giving football players gift cards and other “gifts” for playing in bowl games, while continuing to deny that they are compensating the athletes.

Tweaking the circumstances ever so slightly exposes the absurdity of this rule.  A full-scholarship student posts their books online to sell them at the end of a semester.  Upon selling the books, the student receives money from the buyer. The university does not swoop in and revoke or suspend the student’s scholarship for profiting from their books that they no longer need, yet were paid for by their scholarship – in fact, this is a smart financial decision by the student.  So why should a scholarship athlete selling shoes that are superfluous be treated differently than a scholarship student selling books they do not want or need?

Peel another layer off of this onion, and this one might make you uncomfortable – what is the most important difference between the general student population and the athlete-student[1] population at colleges and universities in the United States?  Approximately 65% of athlete-students in the revenue-generating sports (men’s basketball and football) are black, while only about 14% of the general student population are black.[2]  Of those black athletes, over 50% come from families that qualify for Pell Grants, which are strictly based on financial need.[3]

Let us not forget about Fedora and his comments – about his players and football in general.  Disregard the preposterous one involving the downfall of the United States. Instead, look at his comments denying the causal link between playing football and CTE, something the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer and the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety have publicly admitted to.[4][5]  Fedora is being paid over $2 million for the upcoming season, and will likely be the single most influential person to the 122 athlete-students on UNC’s football team.  As Arrington and the more than 100 ongoing concussion cases against the NCAA and various member institutions demonstrate, the NCAA and these schools have no interest in protecting these players the moment their athletic usefulness or athletic eligibility has run out (not to mention the lack of return to play protocols to protect them while they are playing for the school).  Fedora’s comments indicate what he actually thinks of his players – they are chattel off of which he can profit. So how can Fedora simultaneously speak about responsibility with regard to his players, yet pass off any form of responsibility or accountability when it comes to protecting his players and actually ensuring they get what they were promised – a college education?

Time for a recap: coaches like Fedora sell athlete-students and their families “the dream” of reaching the professional stage while receiving a “free” education (an unfortunate misnomer – it is not free if there is an exchange of goods or services).  The reality is that the athletes are herded into easy majors and classes that allow them to maintain their eligibility while practicing/playing up to 60 hours a week.[6]  It is clear that they are not universally getting an education equal to their non-athlete peers.  Further, less than 4% of revenue-sport college athletes ultimately play professionally in the NFL or NBA, meaning over 96% of them will not receive that golden ticket to fame and fortune.  So what are they left with? A lower quality education that will not put them on even footing with others, chronic pains from playing with no access to affordable health insurance after they leave their university, and no money for their athletic accomplishments, all while NCAA athletics generates over $10 billion in revenue annually.  These athlete-students, who are predominantly black, are conned into selling their bodies at the cost of their education, all to financially benefit predominantly white universities ran by predominantly white administrators and coaches. This is the con that “amateurism” truly represents.

The Historical Basketball League (HBL) wants to expose and eliminate the con.  The HBL would create a system where the athletes are treated as stakeholders with a voice rather than as chattel, where they can monetize their skills, name, image, and likeness like every non-athlete student on campus.  The HBL just wants collegiate athletes to be treated like full citizens in a market economy, to bring things back to the way college sports existed before the NCAA cartel came to power, when college athletes went to school and were paid.[7]

New NCAA Rules

Also this week, the NCAA announced a number of newly-minted rules related to men’s basketball that garnered national interest.  Some of these rules were years overdue, but almost each is a false expansion of the athletes’ rights when you merely scratch the surface – remember, this is a con after all.  Let us look at the more prominent rule changes…

1. Undrafted players can return to school

Yes and no.  In order to qualify to return, the player must have requested an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and received an invite to the NBA Combine.  In the 2018 NBA Draft, only 5 players would have been eligible to return under this rule – approximately 60 players who declared for the draft but were not drafted would not have been eligible.  More important than the necessary hoops the players will have to jump through is that a school can give away that particular player’s scholarship to someone else while the player is preparing for the draft.  Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president of men’s basketball, admitted that were an eligible player to return and the university did not have a remaining scholarship, the returning player could either remain at that school without a scholarship or transfer and sit for a year per the NCAA’s transfer rules[8] – given the economic background of the majority of these athlete-students, as discussed above, staying without a scholarship will almost never be feasible.

2. Scholarship athletes can have agents

Yes and no.  The athlete must receive clearance from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee.  If the “one and done” rule is eliminated, then 18-year-olds that are deemed “elite” by USA Basketball (USAB) may also utilize an agent...except that USAB has already stated that they were “blindsided” by this announcement and have neither the expertise nor the capacity to execute this service.[9]  In typical NCAA fashion, the whole system has not been fleshed out, as they have yet to determine what agents can and cannot pay for leading up to the draft.  For example, it is common practice for athletes to be given loans or have certain training costs covered by the agent, but these “extra benefits” are impermissible according to the NCAA Bylaws.

3. Athletes can have access to a scholarship fund to complete their degree

Yes and no.  If you attend your university for two years prior to leaving and you return within ten years of when you left, then you are eligible to apply to the fund to cover educational costs.  The issue with that is the athletes that are generating the most revenue for these basketball programs leave after one year, and will therefore be unable to take advantage of the fund.  

4. Additional enforcement powers for the NCAA

As if the NCAA did not already have enough unilateral power to punish the players, powers they often exercise, these rule changes will now allow them to bring in outside information for investigative purposes.  Information from government agencies, court proceedings, and more can be used by the NCAA in the course of an investigation. For example, testimony given in open court (whether or not it is substantiated) could be used against an athlete to punish them.  This could become a very real threat to athletes in the future given how few rights they already have in the context of an NCAA investigation.

Once again, the NCAA’s dog and pony show instigated considerable hoopla, however, this is just another instance where players were disproportionately punished and the NCAA expanded its powers while masquerading as wholesale changes to benefit the athletes.  The wheel turns, nothing is ever new.  But then again, when you are so successfully running a con of this magnitude to the tune of billions of dollars generated annually by a free labor force, the NCAA does not have much incentive to change things now.

What is happening in college sports does not just affect the players and sports fans – this is a human rights issue.  Again, we do not require this for any other profession in the United States, and it is only required here due to the demographics, whether implicitly or explicitly.  The NCAA and its member institutions treat these athlete-students like indentured servants. The HBL is going to bring an end to the con and the exploitation of predominantly black athletes.  On June 19, 2020, college basketball will be reset, so be sure to tune in.

For more information, contact press@hbleague.com and visit hbleague.com.


[1] In an attempt to counter this con, I will not refer to these college players as “student-athletes,” but rather I will refer to them by the more appropriate term: athlete-student.

[2] As reported by the National Center for Education Services. See https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98.

[3] Between 40-60% of all Power 5 football and basketball athletes qualify for Pell Grants, and “most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000.” See https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/grants/federal-grants/.

[4] See https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/04/26/greg-ploetz-ncaa-cte-concussion-lawsuit.

[5] See https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/49ers/first-time-nfl-admits-link-between-football-and-cte.

[6] Universities have began including “academic progress bonuses” in coaches’ contracts, giving them a financial incentive to continue this practice. See http://gridironnow.com/ncaa-apr-scores-sec-bonuses/.

[7] The HBL will not recreate the wheel, but rather reset college sports to what it was in the early 20th century, as the Carnegie Foundation reported in 1929 – when 81 of the 112 schools surveyed were compensating their athletes. See https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/308643/.

[8] See https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/college-basketball-rule-changes-what-will-happen-with-the-ncaas-new-rules-for-recruiting-and-the-nba-draft/.

[9] See http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/24324859/ncaa-new-proposed-rules-blindside-nba-usa-basketball-officials.

You Can’t Fix Basketball If You Can’t Admit You’re the Problem

Last week, the Commission on College Basketball (or the Rice Commission) released its long-awaited report. Some industry participants expressed considerable surprise at the Commission’s lack of vision and its willingness to dodge the fundamental problems with college basketball. Though the report contained a few positive ideas, generally it was many recommendations the NCAA wants others to do, while the recommendation for the NCAA members themselves was to exert more control – extending even into youth basketball, and to enforce that control with even more punishment for the supposed “sin” of engaging in healthy commercial transactions, all in the name of what the NCAA calls “amateurism” or the “collegiate model.”

The Historical Basketball League (the HBL) is a new college basketball league that thinks very differently about the sport. As a league, we are fundamentally in favor of our own version of the “collegiate model” which is that athletes who attend college should not have to forfeit their economic rights to acquire an education. To the HBL, “amateurism” is not some revered, noble tradition, but the conduct of an economic cartel that extracts wealth from young, primarily African-American men, and tells them they should be happy they are receiving an education at the cost of their economic rights. In the HBL’s version of the collegiate model, athletes will be able to exercise the right to earn while they learn, and thus to participate fully in the American way of life, free from the harmful imposition of monopoly power on a major segment of the economy.

The Rice Commission was a missed opportunity for the NCAA schools to reform themselves. Instead, they chose to double down on archaic rhetoric and old ideas all the while pointing the finger at everyone except the NCAA. At the HBL, we are not so naive as to be surprised that the NCAA was unwilling to call itself out as the primary culprit in the “corruption” of college sports, but we were somewhat surprised that their recommendation were so backwards-looking that if they were to be adopted, college athletes and society at large would be worse off than they are today.  The good news is that this abdication of the NCAA’s traditional leadership role, is a classic opportunity for a progressive competitor to enter the market. Given the NCAA’s unwillingness to adapt to the 21st century, the HBL plans to fill the gap and create a just system that recognizes athletes as full citizens and thus actually “turn the course of college basketball in the right direction.”

The “One and Done” Rule

As the Rice Commission was quick to point out, the so-called “one and done” rule is the result of a collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and NBPA, and to this end, it is arrogant for other bodies to tell those two organizations what to do. Omitted from the Rice Commission’s analysis, however, was the NCAA’s role in creating the legal framework in which collectively bargained rules like “one and done” came about when the NCAA asked the Second Circuit in Clarett v. NCAA to maintain rules like one-and-done for the health of college sports. While we applaud the NCAA’s willingness to change its position, it should not be absolved of blame for its role in creating the current situation.

At the HBL, we do not wish to appropriate the NBA’s and NBPA’s right to craft draft-age eligibility rules, and we are prepared to work with whatever system is in place. Historically speaking, while there will be great players that make the jump straight from high school (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard, etc.), the mismatch between the value of college athletes and the NCAA’s maximum-allowed scholarship extends far deeper than the dozen or so athletes affected by the one-and-done rule.[1] Even in the absence of one and done, the remainder of high school graduates will still face a choice: sacrifice their economic rights to develop their skills in college or sacrifice their education for a premature jump to the NBA, an overseas league, or the G-League.[2] That false choice is too high of a price to ask of these gifted Americans.

Fortunately, a better option will soon exist so that basketball players can opt for the best of both worlds – the right to an education and the right to earn their economic worth. From Day 1, HBL athletes will earn salaries (paid directly by the HBL) ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, while also receiving league-provided, fully guaranteed, five-year scholarships – and that is just the start. Players in the HBL will have their full rights restored - the right to work with an agent, sign endorsement agreements, and monetize their social media accounts to further supplement their income. They will also receive medical benefits and insurance policies (including disability and loss of value) to protect themselves in the event of injuries, while also receiving other basic benefits an employee generally receives.

Regardless of what the NBA and NBPA ultimately decide, the HBL will continue to focus on the value proposition we can offer to college basketball players. We will not make the mistake of trying to tell Adam Silver and Michelle Roberts how they should do their jobs.

Freshman Ineligibility is Bad for College Sports

It is truly shameful that the Rice Commission would even suggest the return of freshman ineligibility. Similarly shameful is NCAA president Mark Emmert’s statement that if you want to get paid, you have no business being in college.[3] No other sports leagues and no other profession requires this of a college student. Why should college basketball be different? However, if the NCAA insists on telling great athletes who want to practice their craft professionally while also experiencing all of the joys and benefits of the freshman experience that they “have no place” at a Power 5 campus, the HBL will happily take advantage of the NCAA’s ceding the field to our league.

Furthermore, we think even one year of participation in the HBL will be of great service to our athletes. The HBL will offer the opportunity for our athletes to develop holistically into well-rounded people. Our Academic Advisory Board will work to develop a curriculum that our first-year players will complete during the summer season, so that they are better prepared to handle life as professionals, whether on the court or off. In the HBL, no longer will money be treated as something dirty to be avoided; instead the HBL will focus on the education and preparation of our athletes for all future careers, including providing the sort of financial literacy that comes from coursework paired with hands-on participation in marketing, investment, and even retirement planning through 401Ks.

Shoe Companies are Not Evil

While the Rice Commission’s report harps on the corrupt and allegedly “illegal” practices of shoe companies in college basketball, it ignores the fact that underground economies only thrive when the market is denied the ability to function properly.  Every under-the-table payment we see in college sports occurs because standard “above the table” business practices have been demonized. Regardless of the “one and done” rule, college basketball players have considerable value; hundreds (perhaps thousands) would earn more than the current NCAA maximum if allowed. The root cause of this underground economy is the NCAA’s insistence that willing transactions between internationally respected shoe companies and talented, hard-working Americans are somehow immoral. They are not, and once such commerce is restored to its proper place in the economy, most if not all of the problems plaguing college basketball will become a thing of the past.

The NCAA receives over $1 billion dollars per year, primarily from licensing the television/stream rights for the “March Madness” Tournament, a tournament that never features more than 884 scholarship athletes.[4] Even at an average value of $50,000 annually (a high estimate), the payment to the NCAA’s “labor force” is only $44.2 million. Name a company that would turn down the opportunity to make $1 billion at the cost of $44.2 million. We know the rhetoric – that something like 95% of all tournament money goes to support “student-athletes” but we also know the reality – the vast majority of that 95% is paid to others – to coaches who can earn $10 million (and for their country club fees, private jets, and car stipends), to administrators that increasingly earn over $1 million, and even to construction firms that build excessive locker rooms and elaborate palaces for schools to segregate their athletes off from the rest of the campus.

This is an artificially inflated market. Schools take in money from shoe companies that would prefer to work directly with athletes (but cannot because of NCAA rules) and then use that money to compete indirectly for the services of athletes, offering them fleeting luxury rather than the ability to generate future investment capital or a nest egg for the future. Once shoe companies begin working with the HBL, the market will equilibrate – coaches and administrators will be paid more reasonable rates and athletes will receive their value directly, and in far more responsible forms -- salaries rather than perks, investment opportunities rather than pizza parties.

Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour all see the value in being involved in AAU and college basketball or else they wouldn’t be so involved in AAU and college basketball. If these companies want to have direct access to athletes earlier, especially if the NCAA tries to block this contact, the HBL is ready to step into that market gap. In the HBL’s fairer collegiate model, which sees no benefit to “amateurism,” shoe companies won’t risk jail time for their employees (or FBI raids of their businesses) while bringing an underground economy above the table and growing the overall pie they share with HBL schools and HBL athletes. We welcome a no-fraud world in which payments are just normal business transactions and entrepreneurial hustle is valued as much among young basketball athletes as it is among the young tech start-up crowd.

...Neither are AAU Coaches

In any other field, if a community member helped half a dozen minority individuals from low socio-economic background get into colleges, they would be hailed as heroes. Instead, the incumbent powers in college sports call the AAU community “dirty” and use words like “scum” and ”thugs” to describe people the HBL considers community leaders.

The HBL plans to work closely with AAU team organizers and coaches, recognizing the positive role they play in helping young men reach college and receive scholarships. These leaders should play a role in helping their athletes choose the best opportunity for their careers – academic and athletic – and we look forward to a fully collaborative partnership with the non-scholastic basketball world, in contrast with the Rice Commission’s recommendation that the NBA and the NCAA boycott this system with the goal of destroying it.

The Real Problem is Amateurism. The Solution is the HBL.

The obvious issue with the Commission’s report is its failure to address the inadequacies of “amateurism” itself. Beyond a cursory mention that compensation for college basketball players isn’t the answer, the Commission failed to address the economic exploitation inherently involved with “amateurism.”  Instead, it went on a separate tangent to increase the control of the NCAA over not only college basketball, but youth basketball as a whole. The Commission went so far as to demand financial transparency from tournament organizers and shoe companies. Just a final reminder, the NCAA’s rules are not laws, and the NCAA is not a government entity with the authority to act in the manner that the Commission has suggested.

This is the problem with asking the NCAA or its hand-picked Commission to recommend solutions to problems the NCAA members’ conduct has created; it’s hard to ask people whose livelihood depends on a problem persisting to recommend their own demise. Unlike the NCAA, the HBL is not about earning monopoly profits off the backs of athletes whose families often live below the poverty line.[5] Rather than starting with an assumption that athletes’ rights are subordinate to colleges’ preferences,  the HBL respects the rights of athletes to earn their full worth and to work towards a college degree at the same time.  While the NCAA will continue to enforce antiquated rules in hopes of ending the underground economy they have created, we at the HBL will focus on a holistic solution, a new vision of college basketball, where the league, the teams, and the athletes work as partners, sharing in successes (and the revenues that flow from those success).  The fairer collegiate model is the better collegiate model, one that ends the economic and academic exploitation imposed on the industry by the NCAA. Come join us on this mission to save college sports from the NCAA.

For more information, contact press@hbleague.com and visit hbleague.com.

[1] From 1995-2005, an average of 3.55 high school players were selected in the NBA Draft annually. At its peak in 2005, 9 high school players were selected, though only 3 in the first round. In 2015, only 33% of second rounders played even one minute in their rookie season, while all but one first rounder received playing time.

[2] As a reminder, athletes in the G-League face a league-imposed maximum salary of $35,000.

[3] Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.” See https://theundefeated.com/features/the-ncaa-must-face-up-to-its-own-corruption-and-fix-its-big-time-sports-problem/.

[4] The NCAA allows only 13 scholarships per team, which results in no more than 884 athletes across 68 teams.

[5] Between 40-60% of all Power 5 football and basketball athletes qualify for Pell Grants, and “most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000.” See https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/grants/federal-grants/.

HBL Announces Creation of Board of Advisors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              May 3, 2018

The Historical Basketball League (HBL) announced the creation of its Board of Advisors, initially including Marc Cantwell, Rafa Brito-Hernandez, Tammi Gaw, and Ray Jackson.

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Marc Cantwell, Senior Technical Program Manager, Hulu

Marc Cantwell solves big problems for big companies with software.  He is an expert solution architect, designing and building applications, tools, and integrations for critical enterprise environments. He is currently the Senior Technical Program Manager – Content Services of Hulu, LLC in addition to being Partner & Principal Software Architect of Launch Brick Labs, LLC.


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Rafa “El Alcalde” Brito-Hernandez, Bilingual Radio Announcer, Cleveland Cavaliers

Nationally, Rafa Brito-Hernandez’s broadcasting experience includes 8 years as the voice of NFL for Spanish Broadcasts on Univision, he has worked 11 Super Bowls.  He was also the Spanish play-by-play voice of the Miami Dolphins, as well as handling the play-by-play for Major League Baseball, boxing, and UFC. Rafa has covered the last five World Cups. With the 2015 NBA Finals, he became the first broadcaster in the United States to call the Finals of all 3 major sports in Spanish. In 2016 Rafa was the Public-Address Announcer and the voice of legendary Azteca Stadium in Mexico City for the first ever international edition of Monday Night Football. In March of 2017 Rafa became the first broadcaster to call the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in Spanish for Westwood One. Today Rafa has a daily syndicated radio sports show airing in the US and Latin America, he is the cohost of the Emmy award winning show Cavs HQ on Fox Sports Ohio and also serves as the executive producer of the popular podcast “Road Trippin’ with RJ and Channing, Hosted by Allie Clifton”.

“I am honored to be part of the HBL and excited to be part of what is going to change the landscape of college basketball, a league that will really put the students needs first and will give back to the athletes by not only compensating them but also preparing them for life after college and after basketball. I believe the HBL is a great opportunity for young adults to prepare themselves for their professional careers either as professional basketball players or professional in their field of study.”


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Tammi Gaw, Founder and Executive Director, Advantage Rule. LLC

Tammi Gaw has been a part of the sports landscape for over 20 years. Beginning her career as an athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma, Tammi brought her experience as a competitive gymnast to the sports medicine world, working at both the high school and Division I university levels. In 2004, Tammi brought her knowledge of sports to the other side of the locker room door. As one of only a handful of professionals licensed as both an attorney and an athletic trainer, Tammi's unique and unconventional career has included in-house counsel positions, non-profit management and board participation, and C-suite level work with integrated planning for large and medium scale sporting events. Through her company Advantage Rule, Tammi combines her extensive experience in sports medicine, business, and law with her passion for advocacy. Whether on the field, in the boardroom and executive suite, or advocating for client groups seeking access to long term medical care for former athletes, Tammi brings invaluable insight and perspective.

"I joined the Historical Basketball League team because college athletes have been left behind as the business of the NCAA has boomed. Most basketball players will not go on to play in the NBA, and they deserve to be treated as the employees they are, and to receive the compensation that they deserve as an athlete employee while they are able to play and capitalize on their talents. I'm excited to bring my diverse medical and legal expertise to the HBL board, and look forward to revolutionizing the system that has denied athletic students that opportunity for far too long."


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Ray Jackson, Founder, Rising Stars/5th Wheel Agency

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 playing for the University of Michigan. In 2011, Jackson served as an Executive Producer of the ESPN Films documentary, "The Fab Five." He is currently building his newest venture, the 5th Wheel Agency - an organization that leverages sports to improve life outcomes for young people, their families, and their communities through partnerships with schools and other community-based organizations nationwide.


The HBL 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 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.

For more information, contact press@hbleague.com and visit hbleague.com

April 13: HBL Panels in Cleveland, OH and Columbia, SC

On Friday, April 13th, the HBL will be represented on two panels...

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder Ricky Volante will be speaking at the Entertainment and Sports Law Association's 8th Annual Entertainment and Sports Law Symposium at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.. The panel will feature:

  • Mekka Okereke, Engineering Director at Google
  • Mike Johnson, CEO and Founder at All Day Group LLC and ADG Sports LLC
  • Ricky Volante, CEO at Historical Basketball League and Attorney at Buckley King LPA
  • ModeratorRafa "El Alcalde" Brito-Hernandez, the Spanish voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Executive Producer of the Road Trippin' podcast

For more information on the panel or to register for the event, CLICK HERE.

Meanwhile, Chief Strategist and Co-Founder Andy Schwarz will be speaking at the College Sport Research Institute (CSRI) at the University of South Carolina from 11:00 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. The panel will feature:

  • Andy Schwarz, Chief Strategist at Historical Basketball League and Partner at OSKR
  • Mr. Ivan Soto, Executive Director at Arena Football League Players Union
  • ModeratorDr. Mark Nagel, Professor at University of South Carolina

For more information on the panel or to register for the event, CLICK HERE.

The HBL and McGowan PAE Finalize Partnership

The Historical Basketball League (HBL) announced a partnership with McGowan PAE (Professional Athletes & Entertainers), a division of The McGowan Companies.

"We are pleased to partner with a company like McGowan PAE that is exclusively focused on providing athletes with an elite service in an area often overlooked or not considered in the context of college sports" said Ricky Volante, CEO of the HBL. "Having the ability to include specialized insurance solutions as part of the overall package our athletes receive by participating in the HBL is another example of how we view them as full-fledged citizens with the rights and benefits to show it. It is core to the HBL’s mission not to exploit our athletes, and part of that is making sure that they are insured. Our partnership with McGowan PAE provides our athletes with the proper insurance coverages for all of their personal and commercial exposures on and off the court.”

“McGowan PAE is excited to bring our unique services to the athletes of the HBL in their efforts for college athletes to finally be recognized as professional athletes. We are proud to be an asset to the HBL as it works to offer students the same level of protections available to professional athletes in other leagues. Our expertise provides the athletes with the proper insurance coverage as an additional benefit for being a participant in the HBL.” said Jim Convertino, Director Professional Athletes & Entertainers Insurance Solutions Practice.

McGowan PAE specializes in providing personal insurance coverage (home, tenants, jewelry, automobile, umbrella) for professional athletes, ballclub owners, and coaches while also providing commercial coverage for their Foundations, personal appearances, endorsements, special events, commercial ventures, social media accounts, businesses, health and disability coverage, basketball camps, websites, and charity outings. McGowan PAE represents over 400 professional athletes across the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB.

The HBL 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 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.

For more information, contact press@hbleague.com and visit hbleague.com

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, Forbes.com, 538.com, and ESPN.com.

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 HBLeague.com 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.

 

[1] https://sports.yahoo.com/exclusive-federal-documents-detail-sweeping-potential-ncaa-violations-involving-high-profile-players-schools-103338484.html

[2] http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/ncaa-statement-yahoo-sports-story