On Tuesday, the number 5 ranked college basketball recruit in the ESPN Top 100 RJ Hampton, shocked the college sports world when he announced that he would forego college to play professionally in Australia. He made the announcement on ESPN's Get Up. Hampton will play professionally with the National Basketball League's (NBL) New Zealand Breakers.
Immediately after Hampton's announcement, the sports world was abuzz about what this will mean for the NCAA and college basketball. The NCAA, the schools, the conferences, and coaches are facing criticism for the current college sports model where they make billions of dollars while the players are limited to a cost-of-attendance scholarship.
The Current College Sports Model
The current college sports model can be summed up in one word - UNFAIR. The NCAA governs college sports. The NCAA makes rules that it's member schools follow. The bedrock of those rules is the principle of amateurism. College sports are regarded as amateur sports that the players only engage in for their love the game. Thus, college athletes do not receive any payment but may receive a scholarship. Meanwhile, the NCAA, the schools, the conferences, the coaches, and sports administrators make billions of dollars off of college athlete labor. Does this really seem fair?
No, it is not fair. More and more people are acknowledging the unfairness of the current college sports model particularly in regards to D1 men's basketball and football. The issue has been litigated in court in several cases. Recently state and federal lawmakers have proposed legislation challenging the college sports model. The bills propose allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. Due to the progress of these proposed bills, the NCAA has created a working group to address the issue. Now, whether Hampton realizes it or not, his decision poses another challenge to the current college sports model. Hampton's decision could have a detrimental effect on college basketball especially if future top recruits follow in his footsteps.
Will RJ Hampton's Decision Detrimentally Effect College Basketball
Hampton is the only one of the five top recruits to decide not to play college basketball. From a college basketball fan entertainment perspective his absence is not likely to have a profound effect this upcoming season. College basketball will still be the same product that it has been and fans will surely tune in. However, Hampton's decision could have an effect on college basketball down the road. This is especially true when considered with the mounting challenges that college sports is rightfully facing.
As the NCAA addresses the proposed legislation and continues to fight in court, the college sports model is also being challenged directly. Specifically, the NBA's G-League new program presents a competitive problem for college basketball. Last fall, the G-League announced that it would allow elite athletes who are 18 years old to enter the G-League and receive a select contract valued at $125,000.
Furthermore, the NCAA may soon be threatened by a start-up basketball league that seeks to pay its players and give them scholarships. That league is the Historical Basketball League (HBL). Projected to start in 2020, the HBL plans to give it's players an option where they are not forced to choose between pay and education. These new options and the example set by Hampton may encourage future top recruits to take a non-traditional route to the NBA. If this happens, college basketball may be in for a real change.
Change is Inevitable to the Current College Sports Model
RJ Hampton is not the first player to opt out of college for a professional overseas league. However, his decision is still a big deal. Hampton is a top 5 recruit who chose to "buck the system" and pursue his NBA dream another way. Hampton echoes the sentiment that so many others are thinking. That sentiment is that athletes can always go back to college. However, athletes only have a finite amount of time to make money off their athleticism. Why should athletes be forced to spend that time playing in college for drastically under their fair market value? The answer is they should not.
Hampton's decision and reasoning has the potential to have a domino effect. Others are likely to follow suit, especially if Hampton makes it to the NBA. Hampton will get paid to play professionally and prepare for the NBA. It is a really attractive option for similarly situated prospects. Given this realization, the NCAA will eventually have to make a change. Hampton's decision may be even more incentive for the NCAA's working group to do the right thing and allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. One thing is for sure, the current college sports model is going to have to change if it wants to retain elite talent.