On Thursday, the NBA’s G League announced, starting this summer, it will offer “Select Contracts” to elite prospects who have completed high school but are not yet eligible for the NBA Draft.
The D League (or, sorry, that’s “G” League, as in Gatorade, who sponsors the entire league) will target one-and-done candidates with a six-figure salary and a direct pipeline to the NBA.
“Select Contracts are an answer to the basketball community’s call for additional development options for elite players before they are eligible for the NBA,” said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner. “The supporting infrastructure surrounding these newly-created Select Contracts is designed to provide a rich offering of basketball and life skills developmental tools for top young players to grow along their professional paths from high school to the pros.”
The NCAA has largely welcomed this development; the organization resents the NBA’s one-and-done rule, arguing that college isn’t for everyone and players who just want to be pro basketball players should be given the opportunity rather than the status quo, where the NBA hoists uninterested students upon its campuses.
“Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”
Obviously, it remains to be seen if this program will be a success, but I immediately thought of someone who should copy it: the AAF. And the XFL. And the PPFL. And any other upstart football leagues I may be forgetting at the moment.
The Association of American Football begins the Saturday after the Super Bowl and runs through April. The WWE-backed XFL begins play in 2020; the Pacific Pro Football League plans to begin in July 2019.
The AAF is by far the furthest along of the new leagues. It has announced its eight team identities, its coaching staffs and its rosters. And among those eight rosters, you might find eight names per team that registers with the average football fan. There’s Birmingham Iron running back Trent Richardson, who last carried in an NFL game in 2014. There’s San Antonio Gunslingers quarterback Trevor Knight, last seen slinging Oklahoma to a win over Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
And that’s about it as far as recognizable names go. That’s not a criticism of anyone involved. It’s hard to start a football league from scratch.
Hard as it may be, it’s going to be twice as hard to capture the public’s attention. These leagues will be going against the NBA, March Madness, the NHL playoffs, the beginning of baseball season, the NFL Combine and Draft, college spring football and the general feeling of Sheesh, I thought we just watched football season? I’d kind of like to go outside for a little bit.
To put it as simply and bluntly as I can: It’s hard to imagine any of these leagues succeeding when the best players they can offer are the college starts of 2013.
That’s why, if I were running these leagues, I wouldn’t go after just the college starts of 2013. I’d also go after the would-be college stars of 2019, and 2020, and 2021.
The AFL gained legitimacy when, in 1960, the AFL’s Houston Oilers won the services of 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon over the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Both clubs selected Cannon first in their respective drafts, but the AFL beat the NFL because the Oilers paid up. Rams GM Pete Rozelle offered Cannon $30,000 a year for three years plus a $10,000 signing bonus; Oilers owner Bud Adams offered $33,000 a year for three years, a $10,000 signing bonus and a Cadillac for Cannon’s father.
In 1983, the USFL secured Herschel Walker’s services by allowing him to turn pro as a junior, which the NFL didn’t allow at the time. Walker played for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals for three seasons before the league folded.
Football is a different game than basketball, obviously. It won’t take 10 players to make a dent in college football and the NFL, it would take 100. This would be expensive, clearly.
But this is where football’s nature may work in these leagues’ favor. Football is a violent game where your career could on the next snap. NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed, and a 5-year career is considered lengthy.
Given the short nature of the typical football career, players talented enough to be paid to play the game owe it to themselves to squeeze every dollar out of that talent that they can, while they can.
Do you, Mr. 5-Star Recruit, really want to spend three years of your prime playing for free?
Or how about you, Mr. Projected First Round Pick? Why spend your junior year risking that eight figure payday for nothing when you could start taking care of your family and your future today?
This plan isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Two years after a healthy Christian McCaffrey skipped Stanford’s Sun Bowl appearance to project his draft status — and then went No. 8 overall to the Panthers — draft-eligible players withdrawing from lesser bowl games has become a common, accepted practice. Three Texas players skipped the Longhorns’ appearance in the Texas Bowl last December, and none of them went in the first round.
Just this week, Ohio State All-American defensive tackle Nick Bosa announced he’s removing himself from the Buckeyes’ roster now to rehab his core injury and fully prepare to be a possible No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Put a pile of money in front of enough highly-regarded sophomores and juniors and eventually you’ll find some that don’t want to be the next Jaylon Smith or Marcus Lattimore. High-level football is a business, and elite players are starting to accept that reality one cautionary tale at a time.
I don’t know how much it would cost for this plan to work. My guess is it’s a lot. But I do know if I was running the AAF, the XFL or the PPFL, I’d do everything in my power to pull it off, because it may be my only chance at actually succeeding.