Where to begin?
On Friday, Overtime Elite announced the signing of three high school players, all considered top 15 prospects in their class, to two-year deals. The salaries are alleged to be worth six-to-seven figures sprawled across the two seasons.
Honestly, it was jarring. A startup league landing such top talent is a big deal.
Prior to that, the PCL — previously known as the HBL — announced a ranged broadcasting deal making their games available on TV and numerous streaming platforms.
There’s a key difference between the leagues. Overtime Elite is targeting high school kids to play for cash while still in high school. The PCL is going closer to the college model in terms of talent focused on, as they’re attempting to snag the prospects who would otherwise be inbound freshmen in college.
Both of these leagues are scheduled to begin their debut seasons this fall. Before either even tips for the first time, it’s certainly worth noting the NBA’s G League has an Ignite team that also allows players to bypass college and go straight to the pros; inviting such players to make solid loot and receive NBA-level coaching instead of heading to university for a semester.
This is all brand new stuff. For dopes like me, it’s going to be the Proof of Concept Era in college sports and basketball in general. If the proof is evident in the concept, then we will likely see a shift to an academy-style system in all of basketball moving forward.
It will be great… in theory.
We need to take a few steps back before pushing the conversation forward.
College basketball will be fine no matter what happens with any of these endeavors. It is the only sport where the brand is more important than the product on the court. Substandard play never stopped a college hoops fan from watching college hoops. Trust me, I know. I’ve purposely watched sub-300 (not a typo) teams over the years just because I’m a glutton for punishment.
Inject some 2006-07 Delaware Hens basketball into my veins!
/dies - reanimates - decomposing corpse begins to digress…
As for the leagues and their setups, there’s no need to dig too deep on that for now. All are in their infancy. Plus, it’s a bit more fun to theorize what this does if it works, how it might work, and how basketball fans can benefit from this “evolutionary” approach of… ugh… paying the labor a company is attempting to profit off.
Let’s remove the G League stuff for a minute, as in the near feature the prep-to-pro option will likely return to the table. If not, that would mean the NBA wants to grow the G League into something else entirely — a true standalone entity built off the back of one-and-done level players — and if that ends up the case, no new league would be able to battle the resources Adam Silver and company has.
Only countries like China.
Suck on that, NBA Twitter.
As for Overtime Elite and the PCL, there’s an inherent symbiotic relationship the two organizations could have. Since Overtime Elite is a “high school” league, resulting in players losing traditional college basketball eligibility, the next non-NBA logical step for those talents would be the PCL.
The PCL would lower the risk Overtime Elite’s talents are taking. The latter is asking extremely young players to bet on themselves immediately. Even if they are securing a sizable bag while the puberty pimples are still fresh, it could end up being a long-term mistake if it costs them professional non-hoops options down the road.
However, with the PCL existing as a league that not only pays players, but will offer talent the chance to go to school on its dime, top tier prospects on the fence about inking a deal with Overtime Elite out of fear they might miss out on the collegiate experience won’t need to (as) worry.
As for how the leagues need to operate, it’s complicated. They don’t have the strong branding the NCAA provides. They’re also relying heavily upon “star power” from guys who aren’t yet stars.
The NBA is a players’ league. College basketball is about the name on the front of the jersey. Both the PCL and Overtime Elite will have unestablished everything, but are hoping the sheer hype that comes with high school recruiting will be enough to elevate their talents to must-watch statuses.
Bluntly put: They’ll need the next Emoni Bates. The guys featured on SLAM several years away from being several years away, except now they can be no-years-away thanks to Overtime Elite.
They’re also hoping — or should be, I can’t speak on their behalf — the on-the-court product is good. Overtime Elite’s should be the “worst” of the group, but that’s only due to the fact it’s a league featuring high school kids. As for the PCL, it needs its actual product to be superior to the NCAA’s. After all, it’s a professional college basketball league. It can’t also feature some of college basketball’s traditional pitfalls (awful play after the top two percent of teams, no spacing, insane gaps between talents, and we can keep going…).
Nevertheless, let’s pretend all the leagues (again, save for the G League) go gangbusters. Players in high school and college, across the board, have more options. There’s a discussion to be had by someone more educated than me about making sure the kids are getting good advice while weighing those options, but the NCAA losing its monopoly on domestic non-NBA hoops is an objectively good thing. Options are, you know, good!
After that, college basketball remains fine, and the two new paid-to-play leagues get more than enough eyeballs to become mainstays.
Hooray! But what does any of this mean? According to Linkin Park, in the end it doesn’t really matter. But I try so hard, and got so far…
We already touched on why it’s good for the players. Selfishly, though, how will this impact us? You know, the important people. Us fans! Yeah, RAWR GO CLUB STATE POOL CLEANERS!
The immediate impact is more basketball. The PCL and Overtime Elite — if sticking to plans — will play games before the NCAA tips. Couple that with the usual NBA and WNBA seasons, meaningful domestic basketball will be played essentially year-round.
It’s a theoretical long game that tickles my insides and makes me hot and bothered in all the right places.
The sooner any player ends up in the “best” system for them — not just financially and/or educationally, but player development-wise — the better all products will end up down the line.
A rather big knock on the NCAA’s brand of college hoops is the lack of spacing. Between court design dynamics and players’ inability to stroke at a consistent rate, it not only often provides for poor play, but players are thwarted from showcasing their potential due to defenses sagging.
Moreover, outside the aforementioned elite programs that feature numerous outlier players, opposing teams can design an entire plan around stopping an offense’s best one or two guys without much hassle. A risk vs reward deal where the reward of going after the one-through-two good players is worth the risk if ignoring everyone else.
The NCAA swears by its competitive balance and fair play, but no one is buying any notion that the Kentucky Wildcats and San Fransisco Dons are operating remotely close to whatever alleged playing field the governing body swears exists. Anyway — at least in theory — the Overtime Elite and PCL leagues should have a more leveled playing field.
Couple that with an increased focused path to the pros development structure for players, the NBA’s on-the-court product can end up the real victors. Per usual NBA bylaw, the league doesn’t have to do much of anything other than stay the hell out of the way to reap the benefits.
It is the academy model with less structure.
16-year-old inks two-year deal with Overtime Elite, gets paid and the best coaching a talent that age can have. As he begins to mature, his game is more advanced (again, only in theory) than others due to the benefits of turning pro early. He then inks a deal with the PCL. When there, he will receive the same development path — with the added college tuition bonus — while getting a better idea if the NBA is a realistic option. The safety net of school is there, but even if the player only wants to do the PCL for a single season, he’s already played three years of professional basketball, receiving all the perks that come along with it.
Gnarly. Sorry. Hard stop here to avoid giant blocks of text. Boo, me. No witty joke attempts here.
By the time that player ends up a legitimate NBA prospect, that league will be able to call upon two different leagues for references, will have insane amounts of tape available on the player against other (likely) NBA prospects (and not watered down tape of kid bullyballing some dork from a low-major), and the player should be more “NBA ready” than most current NCAA one-and-done players since they’ve already done all the professional trappings.
It can’t be stressed harshly enough that EVERYTHING you just read is in theory. Moreover, a lot of what happens next is out of the young talents’ control. The leagues need to be ran well, find a way to brand themselves to matter to people outside dopes like me, and so much more… and even then it’s an uphill battle to become established brands.
Word vomit out of the way, this fall is going to be so much fun. Here’s to hoping all the leagues and their players prosper.
Objectivity Note On The PCL
While no longer a journalist of any sort, given everything that’s recently happened with The AP, let’s toss out some notes real quick.
Objectivity in writing/reporting is a funny thing. People often champion it as the only correct way to cover anything no matter the scale. I also like objectivity in my news; though I’d argue it’s not realistic or human to expect it all that often. In fact, it’s the illusion of objectivity that bothers me far more than if a journalist is bias.
Journalists are people. People have belief systems, thoughts, and opinions. If you ever go on Twitter, I’m sure that doesn’t shock you. Nonetheless, some gatekeepers still swear it’s objectivity or bust.
Eh. I’m not down with that. Be objective when you can. Otherwise, be honest and sincere.
Now that I’m no longer a journalist, but a mere basement blogger working in my office that’s not a basement, it’s nice to not thread that line anymore.
I first began covering the PCL in its infancy (when still known as the HBL). I’m a loud, longtime “pay players” guy. Of course, my coverage of them was likely subconsciously steered toward a more benefit-of-the-doubt type of way. If I want payers paid, how can I objectively root against a league trying to do that?
I can’t. Fuck me and my dumb convictions. Accept my apologies, gatekeepers!
After I stopped doing any degree of BIG J Journalism, I also thought I was done writing college basketball. During that time, I grew some relationships with a few guys from the PCL because I liked them on a normal level, wanted their league to succeed, and the like. All benign, human things that I’m only noting for past and future references to the league.
I am, more than likely, going to give them a wider berth for failure than I’d give basketball models I believe exploit players, and leagues I don’t have a direct connection with.
All that said, if you’re reading this Andy, it took me over a year to read it… and I STILL do not get why people love David Foster Wallace.
The ACC Is Rich!
The ACC made some history right before the world got slapped in the face by a global pandemic. The league distributed a record $497.2 million for the 2019-20 financial year.
This is a $43 million increase from the previous fiscal cycle.
Oddly enough, this is slightly less revenue generated than the maligned Pac-12 on a per team basis. That league, one everyone claims is #wellactuallybad, did a lower overall number of $403 million, but its team distribution average is higher, sitting at $33.6 million per school (the ACC’s split is $32.3 million per college).
Oh, for shits and giggles, the SEC distributed $657.7 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
But sure, everybody’s broke.
Joseph Nardone covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. He’s now writing fiction because he’s a fucking idiot and a glutton for punishment. Twitter is @JosephNardone. If you say mean things to him, he’ll just yell at his ceiling.