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The NBA's power brokers are pushing back against the NCAA.
All this talk about amateurs taking forbidden money or coaches looking to line the pockets of the top prospects, and the conversation always seems to gloss over the central problem: the broken basketball system.
Yahoo Sports reported last week that documents seized by the FBI showed payments made to college players from former agent Andy Miller and his associate Christian Dawkins from ASM Sports.
It's another version of a familiar story. From the AAU system that comes with so many pitfalls to the college game where antiquated rules have remained in place for too long, this goes deeper than the latest FBI probe that sheds light on this institution.
"The NCAA is corrupt, we know that. Sorry, it's going to make headlines, but it's corrupt," LeBron James told reporters Tuesday.
James is the biggest name in the basketball galaxy, but he's not the only one speaking out. USA TODAY spoke with four prominent members of the NBA community to get their views.
Michele Roberts: The trial lawyer was elected as the National Basketball Players Association executive director in July 2014, thus becoming the first woman to head a North American major professional men's sports league union.
Maverick Carter: James' business manager; CEO of Springhill Entertainment and Uninterrupted. Carter grew up with James in Akron, Ohio, attending St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School before playing at Western Michigan (where he received a scholarship) and Akron. He transferred from Western Michigan after the coach who recruited him was fired before he'd arrived but was forced to sit a season by the NCAA because of his transfer. Carter left early to intern at Nike and begin working with James.
Draymond Green: The three-time NBA All-Star and two-time champion from the Golden State Warriors was taken 35th overall out of Michigan State in 2012.
Jalen Rose: The ESPN analyst played 13 NBA seasons after being taken 13th overall out of Michigan in 1994. He was a member of the Fab Five team that was the focus of a six-year FBI investigation relating to illegal payments from booster Ed Martin (while Rose was cleared, four players — most notably Chris Webber — were found to have received significant payments that led to sanctions).
THE NCAA PROBLEM
Roberts: "What's disturbed me about what's happened recently is (that) I don't think it's fair to plaster the name of a player who when he was 18 years old allegedly received some monies from an agent or an agent representative because, No. 1, the problem is not the player. ... The problem is the fact that these players would be even vulnerable to those sorts of gestures. Again, I can't change the NCAA's rules, but I can't help but wonder why it is that an industry — and by "industry" I know I'm using quotes (and) I should be — why a process that produces millions, if not billions of dollars, thinks that the culprit is the kid who makes no money, who helps generate that income, who takes something. What disturbs me is the focus on the players, rather than better focus on the system."
Carter: "I still fancy myself a young African-American man, and I can remember when I was playing high school, played AAU, and then went on to play college — not high-major, but mid-major, Division I. I clearly knew the system was broken then, but I didn't know what to do about it or what to say about it. But as a I grew up and worked at Nike and was a part of LeBron's process, I really understood that the system was broken, and it's broken at the base, the foundation of it, which is youth basketball. ... I've had this conversation with people at the league, all the way up to (Commissioner) Adam (Silver). Adam's job is to run the NBA, but really he's the protector of basketball. And if youth basketball is broken, then that's part of his job, too, because those kids are quickly in his league."
Green: "We've got the NCAA, a billion-dollar industry, and the labor is unpaid. I was talking to our (Warriors) security guy today (Ralph Walker, who was taken in the fifth round by the Phoenix Suns in 1976 and cut soon thereafter), and he was saying like, 'Man, I remember playing college basketball, and I knew they were using me and they were getting what they could get out of me, and I was using them and getting what I could get out of them, because at the end of the day, my parents couldn't afford a college education.' And I was like, 'Hmm, that's understandable.' But in saying that, he's 60-something years old. College basketball wasn't a billion-dollar industry when he was a college athlete, so now that it's a billion-dollar industry (things should change). And not only is it a billion-dollar industry, but athletes are probably more aware and as smart as they've ever been now.
"These kids are learning that (they're) getting screwed. You're giving me a college degree. Great. I am so thankful for my degree. I think it's one of the best accomplishments in my life, to walk across that stage and graduate from Michigan State. ... But in saying that, what you get for a college education doesn't equal near what these kids are bringing to the university. ... That's where the corruption is."
Rose: "The first thing that came to mind for me (with the Yahoo Sports report) was, 'Again?' I wasn't surprised. I wasn't shocked. It wasn't breaking news. It wasn't something that I needed to see at the bottom of the ticker (to know) it existed. I hope that it now leads to the NCAA taking a serious introspective look at itself and understanding that this system is broken."
STARTING WITH THE YOUTH
Carter: "I think the NBA and the teams have to really roll up their sleeves, put together a team, a task force, a committee, and really figure this out, because it's a very complex issue. You have young players, lots of them African Americans, but also not African Americans, who come up through the system as it is today and don't get paid until they maybe make it to the NBA. But everybody else is getting paid along the way. AAU coaches, AAU teams, college coaches, college teams, colleges. So when they do take money, it's only a story because the NCAA has these stupid-ass rules that are so archaic, so you have to fix that whole thing and figure out a way to do it. I own a piece of Liverpool football club, in European soccer, because the clubs have systems all the way down to the youth. They've figured out a way where they don't have to deal with it."
Roberts: "I think it was (last) Christmas, and I was in D.C., and I opened the newspaper and I read about a kid who was being described as the No. 1 fourth-grader in basketball, and I literally fell off the dining room chair. I couldn't imagine that anyone really was about the business of trying to (rank fourth-graders). And I had some conversations, and I've not been focused on youth basketball at that level — I didn't realize the world was. And it scared me, to be honest with you. This kid may or may not be a member of my union 15 years from now, but what scared me was that people were focused on him. ...
"If the only people talking to them are those who are trying to exploit them, then I think all of us are ignoring our responsibilities to the sport."
FINDING THE SOLUTION
Green: "This has been a discussion for years, and if they're not willing to compensate the people who are driving their billion-dollar industry, then there absolutely should be a way to go right around it, to circumvent it, because they're not willing to make a change. (That) means they see nothing wrong or they see something wrong with it but they're not willing to change it because it'll cost them dollars. They don't have to do it.
"You talk to these European guys who I've played with, and they've been making money since they were 15 years old. ... I honestly think (hypothetical NCAA payment to athletes) should be tiered. If you're producing at a level, at a high major college where you're ... bringing in more money, then you probably should be making more money than a guy who's not producing at a low major college."
Rose: "It's more than just actually pay the players. It's 'Pay the players, and/or allow them to profit off their likeness and/or their ability.' And do I think sports that are not profitable should share in the same revenue with the sports that are profitable? No, because we can work for the same company but that don't mean we make the same money. That's not how life works. And this idea that everybody gets a participation trophy is just unrealistic."
Carter: "I think (the G-League) eventually becomes, if you're LeBron James or Kevin Durant or these players who have the ability at 18 ... to clearly play at a pro level, it will now become an alternative. Hey, you can either go play pros or you can get drafted. However you get with the club, and they don't have to put you on the Division I team, or the A-team, yet; they can develop you. Like baseball. But you're getting real pro development when you're ready to play, and it takes a little time, because some guys are physically ready to play in the NBA but mentally it beats you down. ... I think it does become an alternative to the NCAA, absolutely. It should."
Roberts: "The league is doing some things (internally). We've had conversations with the league, because we share their concerns, and they share our concerns. But internally, we have had a focus on elite basketball, on high school basketball — again, assuming that that was soon enough. The same people in my PA who were engaged and in charge with that process have now agreed that we need to go younger, and we're now plotting ways to do that."
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