To stop unscrupulous actors, the NCAA released rules for agents representing college basketball players. But a backlash highlighted how a rule requiring a four-year degree created systemic faults.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) appears to have learned an important lesson recently: Well-intentioned rules may prove exclusionary in all the wrong ways.
Earlier this month, the college athletics group, which announced rules last year intended to give college players more flexibility in deciding their future plans, issued a series of regulations for agents who want to represent these players. One of the rules required that agents have a four-year college degree.
This rule immediately received criticism from basketball fans, particularly because one of the most prominent professional basketball agents in the country, Rich Paul, did not graduate from college.
Paul is no small figure in modern basketball—having been discovered by close friend LeBron James in 2002, he now represents many of the biggest stars in basketball, including James, John Wall, Anthony Davis, and Draymond Green.
Paul has at times faced criticism for not having a degree, but his track record of representing the game’s elite speaks for itself. As a result, Paul had a lot of defenders, some of whom suggested that the NCAA had implemented “the Rich Paul rule.”
However, the most piercing was Paul himself, who raised concerns about the cultural precedent the NCAA was setting in a column for The Athletic:
The harmful consequences of this decision will ricochet onto others who are trying to break in. NCAA executives are once again preventing young people from less prestigious backgrounds, and often people of color, from working in the system they continue to control. In this case, the people being locked out are kids who aspire to be an agent and work in the NBA and do not have the resources, opportunity, or desire to get a four-year degree.
While expressing support for many of the NCAA’s other regulations for agents, Paul warned against a rule that could be seen as “systematically excluding” those who, like him, might become an agent without a college degree.
As a result of the outcry, the NCAA on Monday announced it would now accept agents who had been offered education waivers by the National Basketball Players Association. The group emphasized that it did not make its decisions with specific agents in mind.
“While specific individuals were not considered when developing our process, we respect the NBPA’s determination of qualification and have amended our certification criteria,” the group stated.
The goal of the original rule, the NCAA stated, was to protect young athletes from “unscrupulous actors who may not represent their best interests.”
“We remain focused on improving the college basketball environment, and over the next year we will continue to evaluate the agent certification policy as well as the implementation of other rules recommended by the Commission on College Basketball,” the NCAA added.