NCAA Changes Agent Rule Hours After Rich Paul’s Op-Ed was Released (UPDATE)

Rich Paul Rule Overturned NCAA Agent Rule

If anyone ever doubted the influence of LeBron James and his team, that doubt should be put to rest. Yesterday the NCAA announced that they were removing the controversial bachelor’s degree requirement from their agent certification requirements. This announcement came just hours after Rich Paul, LeBron James’ longtime friend and agent, released an op-Ed in the Athletic criticizing the bachelor’s degree requirement. If that is not a demonstration of insurmountable influence, then what is? 

The NCAA’s Agent Certification Process did not Last a Week Before it saw Sweeping Change

Last week, the NCAA revealed their new agent certification process. The certification process is for agents who wish to represent college basketball players looking to test the NBA Draft waters while maintaining collegiate eligibility. When the NCAA revealed that completion of a bachelor’s degree was one of the requirements, the sports world went into a criticizing frenzy. King James led the charge, dubbing the rule the “Rich Paul” rule, as he saw it as a snub at the success of Paul. 

Rich Paul has Evolved into a Super Agent

Paul has experienced unprecedented success as an NBA agent. Moreover, he disrupted college basketball when he represented Darius Bazley. Bazley was a top high school basketball recruit. However, he opted out of playing for Syracuse to workout on his own. During this time he interned for New Balance. As a part of the internship, Paul helped Bazely receive $1 million guaranteed and a shoe deal. Bazley has the potential to earn up to $14 million on the deal and was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NBA draft.

Bazley’s New Balance deal speaks to Paul’s abilities. More impressive is that Paul has done all of this without a bachelor’s degree. The NCAA’s initial rule was seen as a slight at the success of Paul. It was also viewed as yet another barrier to future agents like Rich Paul, limiting abilities to break into the sports agent business.

With Pressure from James, Paul, and Others in the Sports Industry the NCAA had no Choice but Give In

Many in the sports industry called the rule out for what it was. It was an attempt to keep those at the top of the sports industry in power. There would be no real challenges to the power structure. The Rich Paul rule would have disproportionately negatively affected minorities and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. 

As Paul mentioned in his op-Ed, the rule as it was would have ultimately prohibited those who do not have the resources, opportunity, or desire to get a four-year degree from entering the agent business. From all of the criticism and pressure, the NCAA was forced to get rid of the bachelor’s degree requirement.

If this is not a testament to LeBron James’ and Rich Paul’s influence, the what is? 

The NCAA’s New Agent Rule is About Maintaining​ Control

NCAA Rich Paul Agent Rule

The NCAA sent the sports world into a frenzy when they announced their new certification process for sports agents who wish to represent college basketball players. The new rule comes as a part of the recommendations made by the Commission on College Basketball (Commission) last April. After the 2017 college hoops scandal led to an FBI investigation and criminal trial, the NCAA created the Commission to help resolve the problems in college basketball. One of the Commission’s recommendations was that the NCAA allow some college basketball players to enlist the guidance of agents. Accordingly, the NCAA released the process for an agent to become NCAA-certified.

To become an NCAA-certified agent, one must have a bachelors degree, be NBPA certified for at least three consecutive years and in good standing, maintain liability insurance, and submit an application by the appropriate deadline. The requirement that agents have a bachelors degree did not sit well with many in the sports industry. The bachelor degree requirement received instant criticism. LeBron James was at the forefront of the criticism as he viewed the rule as a snub at the success of his friend and agent, Rich Paul. He even dubbed the rule the “Rich Paul Rule.”

Why Would LeBron James Think That the Rule is a Snub at Rich Paul?

Rich Paul is a close friend of LeBron James who later became his agent. Paul does not have a bachelors degree but has been ultra-successful as a basketball agent. He learned the agent business through practical real-world experience. Paul then became an NBPA certified agent and created Klutch Sports. In addition to LeBron James, Paul represents Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons, and a host of other top NBA talent. Given Paul’s client roster it is clear that he has totally disrupted the basketball agent industry. He has become an NBA agent powerhouse. Not only has Paul and Klutch Sports disrupted NBA basketball, but he also ruffled some feathers in college basketball.

Darius Bazley was a top high school basketball prospect who was committed to playing at Syracuse. Bazley ultimately changed his mind and opted not to attend Syracuse and to forego his college eligibility. Instead, Bazely worked out on his own to prepare for the NBA draft. With the help of Rich Paul, Bazley landed an internship with New Balance. Paul helped Bazley garner an internship deal where Bazely received a shoe deal and a guaranteed $1 million.

Once Bazley decided not to attend college many wondered if he would be drafted into the NBA. In June that question was answered when Bazely was drafted in the first round at number 23 by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul and Bazley raised a lot of eyebrows with their unconventional newly charted path to the NBA. Given the disruption that Rich Paul has caused in both professional and college basketball, it is very clear why King James thinks the NCAA’s new agent rule is targeting Rich Paul.

Is it Simply Targeting Rich Paul or is the NCAA Seeking to Prevent a Broader Phenomenon?

Changes in College Athletics

Sports fans will never know for sure if the NCAA created the agent certification guidelines with Rich Paul in mind. However, what is known is that change is afoot in college athletics and in professional basketball. One thing that is for sure is that the NCAA and others at the top of the sports industry are threatened by innovators and disruptors like Rich Paul. They have much to gain by ensuring there is a system in place to make it more difficult for future Rich Pauls.

In college athletics, the NCAA’s model is being attacked on all fronts. The NCAA is defending the farce of amateurism in court. Recently, the NCAA was forced to create a working group to address the various federal and state-level bills. The bills seek to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. With the many challenges to the current college sports landscape, the NCAA is willing to do whatever it takes to retain control. Requiring a bachelors degree is one way that the NCAA seeks to accomplish that goal.

Having a College Degree Does not Automatically Equal Quality Representation

Yes, it is true that requiring agents to have a bachelor’s degree is a move to safeguard the players. However, simply having a degree does not automatically make a person qualified to negotiate a sports contract. Nor does it automatically mean that the person will not take advantage of the athlete. Furthermore, classroom education does not beat out real-world experience. Hence, the reason entry-level and recent graduate job postings still ask for one to two years of experience. One thing the bachelor’s degree requirement does is make sure others like Rich Paul have another hurdle to cross.

Lack of a college degree does not automatically equal sub-par representation. The clearest example of that is Rich Paul. Furthermore, the degree requirement could automatically preclude those closest to the athletes and with the athletes’ best interest at heart from representing them. Is that in the athletes’ best interest in all cases? The NCAA should have an option where a certain amount of experience takes the place of the degree requirement just as the NBPA does.

Certainly Benefits Those Already at the Top of the Agent Industry

Paul’s willingness to help athletes go after their goals in their own way has made him attractive to other players. This phenomenon has lead to some disruptions in professional basketball player representation. The most telling example of this is Anthony Davis and his attempt to force his way to the Lakers this past season. Other agents are threatened by Rich Paul. Creating a rule that requires a bachelors degree is a way to make sure disruptors like Rich Paul have a harder time getting started in the business.

The bachelor’s degree requirement puts Rich Paul and similarly situated agents behind because it precludes them from building relationships with college basketball players. While requiring a bachelors degree can help safeguard college basketball players, it is not foolproof. For that reason, it is likely that the rule may have been more about the NCAA and other top sports industry leaders retaining their power than protecting the athletes.

Darius Bazley and Rich Paul Just Changed the Path to the NBA Draft From HS

Rich Paul Darius Bazley Klutch Sports

On June 20, 2019, NBA fans tuned in to witness the next wave of NBA stars be drafted into the NBA. Most notable was Zion Williamson who was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans as the number one overall pick. Williamson was the most anticipated NBA draft pick since LeBron James in 2003. NBA fans are excited to see what Williamson will bring to the game. Also, that night another player who has already proved to be a game changer was drafted. That player is Darius Bazley. Darius Bazely was drafted in the first round at number 23 by the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) thanks to a plan orchestrated by Rich Paul.

Darius Bazley Emerged as a Game Changer well Before the NBA Draft

Bazely earned his status as a game changer way before the 2019 NBA Draft took place. He was a highly sought after high school recruit. ESPN ranked Bazley as the 13th best high school player in the class of 2018. Bazely was slated to play for Syracuse University. To the surprise of many, at the end of his senior year in high school, Bazley announced that he was going to forego college to the NBA G-League. Soon after, Bazley hired Rich Paul of Klutch Sports (LeBron’s childhood friend and agent) to be his agent. Bazley again changed his mind and decided not to enter the G-League. He instead opted to spend a year training for the NBA Draft on his own.

In addition to training for the NBA Draft, Bazley landed an internship with New Balance. With the help of Rich Paul, Bazley brokered a fairly lucrative internship deal. The internship included a shoe deal where Bazley would receive $1 million dollars regardless of how his NBA career turns outs. He can receive another $14 million from the internship if he reaches all of the performance incentives. 

Darius did not Need the NCAA to get to the NBA

Bazley took the road less traveled. He charted his own path to the NBA and made money and gained valuable real world work experience while he did it. He is not the first player to opt of out of college. There have been several players who decided to play professionally overseas before entering the NBA Draft. However, Bazley did it entirely different. He did not play organized basketball anywhere for an entire year. He only worked out on his own and took a sort of vocational education path with the New Balance internship. Many questioned if Bazely would be drafted at all or if he would be drafted at a lower seed.

Bazley was drafted with the 23rd pick in the first round. One could argue that Bazley hurt himself in the NBA Draft by not playing in college. Had he had a great year in college, he may have been drafted in the top ten of the first round. However, if he did that he would not have gained the real-world experience he did as an intern. He certainly would not have been allowed to make $1 million while doing it. What if Bazley had suffered an injury in college? An injury would have negatively affected his draft potential. Arguments can be made for and against Bazely’s unique path to the NBA. One thing is for sure, Bazley and Rich Paul have changed the game.

They have given future players and agents another path to the NBA to consider. Work out on your own while getting real world work experience. That work experience could even turn be leverged into endorsement deal once in the NBA.

Is Bazley Ready for the NBA Since he did not Participate in Organized Basketball for a Year?

Many questioned whether Bazley is ready for the NBA since he has not played organized basketball in a year. Some argue that Bazley was not a good pick for the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, that remains to be seen. It is likely that Bazely will have some adjustments to make during his transition into the NBA. However, that is true for all players not matter where they were previously. If a player goes to the NBA from college, from a professional league overseas, or from private training the player is still going to have to adjust to the NBA. It is very likely that Darius Bazley will turn out to be a good pick for OKC. After all, he managed to be picked in the first round even though he did not play organized basketball for an entire year. He was drafted in front of a lot of players who did.

Darius Bazley and Rich Paul Have Charted a New Path, but will Others Follow Suit?

It is no doubt that Bazley and Paul have charted a new path. The question is will future highly sought after high school recruits take a similar path? It is possible that other players will follow Bazley’s path, especially if Bazley’s NBA career takes off. Future athletes are also likely to take this path if the NCAA continues to make and enforce rules that prohibit college athletes from reaping the financial rewards that coaches and other sports administration officials enjoy. Bazley’s path to the NBA is definitely a game changer for future generations to pay close attention to. 

Follow Kassandra Ramsey on Twitter @Court_2_Court