NCAA basketball dribbles back on agents

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In the world of sports representation, Rich Paul is a big deal.  

The 37-year-old, the CEO and founder of Klutch Sports, is entrusted by clients, including Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons, John Wall and LeBron James. 

But briefly last week that resumé wasn’t up to NCAA standards. 

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You see, Paul doesn’t have a college degree. The NCAA released a new certification process for agents who assist underclassmen who test the NBA draft waters. Under the rule, Paul, the super-agent, would have been ineligible to counsel college players. 

James took to Twitter and pronounced the move “#TheRichPaulRule.” Comedian Kevin Hart and NBA star Chris Paul followed suit. 

In the wake of the backlash, the NCAA changed course. Agents must now “Have a bachelor’s degree and-or are currently certified and in good standing with the NBPA.” 

The association’s attempted power play to exert more control over student athletes turned into another own goal. Some commentators suggested more sinister motives. 

Writing in The Guardian, Etan Thomas, who played in the NBA for 10 years, asked if there might be a racial component to the NCAA’s new rule. 

“After all, no one had an issue when super-agents Arn Tellem and David Falk, who are both white, were running the league in the 1990s like Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes,” Thomas wrote. “Nothing against them, they were great agents who cornered the market in a different era. But now that it’s a young black man gaining power, suddenly there’s a problem that requires barriers to entry?” 

“The NCAA doesn’t have a Rich Paul problem,” Justin Tinsley wrote in The Undefeated. “The problem is that its structure is designed to regulate the freedom of athletes to turn pro in primarily black sports but not in white ones.” 

Paul, in a piece for The Athletic, didn’t accuse the NCAA of targeting him. But he suggested the rule would harm the efforts of “young people from less prestigious backgrounds, and often people of color” to become agents. 

The reversal of the rule came within hours of the publication of Paul’s piece. 

The NCAA’s college basketball product is worth billions of dollars. And that money is made on the backs of essentially unpaid interns — the players. 

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African-American men constituted just 2.4 percent of the undergraduate populations at the 65 Power 5 schools, according to a report by USC’s Race and Equity Center. African-American men accounted for 56 percent of basketball players at those schools. 

The NCAA, which suffered a major black eye when federal prosecutors began a wide-ranging investigation into corruption in college basketball, deserved praise for relaxing its rules last year surrounding agents and players wanting to judge their NBA value without giving up remaining college eligibility. 

The imposition of an arbitrary new rule called into question the governing body’s intentions. 

As Jay Bilas, a lawyer, ESPN analyst and vociferous NCAA critic, put it to the Washington Post: “What (the NCAA) is doing here is putting up barriers to make it more difficult for the asset of the university to leave. That’s what they’re doing.” 

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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