LaVar Ball's Idea for an NCAA-Alternative League is Good
But can he actually pull it off?
Photo by Richard Mackson—USA TODAY Sports
Today, LaVar Ball put up a left-field idea about how to disrupt the college basketball industry by creating a league for high school graduates. And you know what? It's not the worst. In fact, it's pretty damned good, and might be easier to pull off than a pay-for-play gambit proposed up by the country's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
It seems like Ball is still in the imagining stages, but he's already called the league the Junior Basketball Association, and says he'd pay players as much as $10,000 a month to help fund a league made up of kids who don't want to get exploited by the NBA, per ESPN.
Ball said he got the idea from a comment that NCAA president Mark Emmert made at the SportsBusiness Journal conference, in response to a question about whether or not Ball was good for the college-level game. Emmert essentially said that families can either decide to have the support of a university or they could just decide to take their own route.
Earlier this month, Ball did just that by having his two youngest sons waive their college eligibility by taking on an agent, and signing with a pro league in Lithuania. But developing a league would be a large, sweeping change to the way that things are done in this country for players that have graduated high school.
"Those kids who are one-and-done, they shouldn't be there with the NCAA trying to hold them hostage, not allowing them to keep the jersey they wear while selling replicas of them in stores. So our guy isn't going to go to Florida State for a year. He's going to come to our league."
LaVar's idea is that 80 players on 10 teams would get between $3,000 and $10,000 a month to play. He claims that his company Big Baller Brand would pay for it all, but that's a lot of capital. Hard to know how shoe sales are doing.
But this much is clear: for however much flack LaVar Ball gets for being a loud, brassy, annoying basketball dad, his ideas aren't half bad. The man started his own shoe company to buck the big guys, he made alternative decisions to keep his kids out of the corrupt and stingy NCAA, he has (basically) repeatedly told Donald Trump to go F himself, and now he wants to create a league that would resolve a huge problem for young basketball players.
That's the thing. Nike is in a way better position to pull this off than LaVar's groundbreaking, although fledging BBB. Nike could easily outfit a league with 10 teams, paying six figures, and make a profit on it. European soccer has had a similar setup for decades. Sure, they might get a bit of blowback from the "student athlete" dinosaurs out there, but the argument in college sports is that the educational moments are scarce anyway. College coaches across big-time sports get special praise for graduating players—like they have exceeded expectations as coaches—while the NCAA uses education as the lynchpin to an entire business model. This is a system ripe for overhaul.
Maybe the only unfortunate thing about LaVar Ball's idea is that you hope someone else steals it.