COLUMN: G League idea is a winner for athletes

Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

     I am in the camp of those who believe NCAA men’s college basketball players are exploited, so that people surrounding them – coaches, shoe companies, even the schools themselves – can rake in millions.

     Sure, I know the argument in favor of unpaid college athletes, primarily that they get a free education. Less publicized, but also valid, is that college athletes get exposed to top-notch coaching, medical care, strength and conditioning training, and more – all for free.

     Even with all that, I’ve always thought it horribly unfair that a men’s college basketball coach can make tens of millions of dollars, plus shoe endorsements and camp revenues, while the guys he coaches – the ones whose skills have made him rich – still have to call home for spending money.

     That’s probably an exaggeration. It’s hard to imagine that players in the biggest programs aren’t being compensated in some behind-the-scenes way.

     Still, the best college basketball news to come out in recent weeks is the announcement that the G League, the NBA’s development league (which includes the Des Moines-based Iowa Wolves), will begin offering $125,000 “select contracts” to elite high school players, beginning with the 2019-20 season.

     The idea is to give athletes an option other than “one-and-done.” Currently, players have to be at least 19 years old by the end of the draft year and at least one year removed from high school graduation before entering the NBA draft. So they wind up playing in an NCAA program for a year, where those around them can profit off their abilities, likenesses and the shoes they wear, but the athletes themselves cannot, at least not legally.

     The G league plan will give these players a choice. More than the money, select players will also be able to, as a USA Today article puts it, “hire agents, profit off their name and likeness, and pursue marketing deals from sneaker companies – all opportunities that could lead to hundreds of thousands of endorsement dollars before ever setting foot on the NBA hardwood.”

     Other articles about this idea have pointed to the fact that the G League is assigning a value to such players, and if they choose college anyway, it will be because a freshman year of college is more valuable to them – whether above-board or not  – than $125,000 would be.

     For my money, if you’ll pardon the expression, the best thing about the select contract format is that it will put burrs in the saddles of the guys who have profited most off the talents of their unpaid/underpaid players.

     Might have to get me some G League gear.



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