Basketball dad and athletic apparel entrepreneur LaVar Ball took aim at the NCAA on Wednesday as he declared his intention to start a basketball league for nationally ranked high school graduates who would rather be paid than play amateur collegiate basketball.
How he’d fund such a league, which he claims would pay players between $3,000 and $10,000 per month, remains a mystery.
‘Getting these players is going to be easy,’ Ball told ESPN. ‘This is giving guys a chance to get a jump start on their career, to be seen by pro scouts, and we’re going to pay them because someone has to pay these kids.’
Ball is famous for several reasons, including his war of words with President Donald Trump, who claims to have helped the middle Ball brother, LiAngelo, return to the United States after being arrested for shoplifting with two of his UCLA teammates before a November game in Shanghai.
The older Ball brother, Lonzo, was the second pick of the NCAA Draft and currently starts for the Los Angeles Lakers while younger brother, LaMelo, plans on playing professionally with LiAngelo in Lithuania after both were taken out of school by LaVar.
LiAngelo had been suspended indefinitely at UCLA and LaMelo’s collegiate eligibility was put in jeopardy after he agreed to endorse his signature shoe with LaVar’s company, the Big Baller Brand, in direct violation of NCAA rules regarding amateur eligibility.
The advantage of the Junior Basketball Association – which will be owned by his Big Baller Brand – is that Ball can actually offer salaries whereas NCAA teams are forbidden from compensating players, who are also barred from signing any endorsements or making money of their image or likeness.
High school graduates are not prevented from playing professionally, but the NBA currently has what is known as the ‘one and done’ rule, which requires players to be at least one year removed from high school or at least 19 years of age before declaring for the draft. Some players, such as the younger Ball brothers, have decided to play professionally overseas rather than staying in the United States to play collegiate basketball.
A player who opts for the JBA could earn endorsement money without worrying about losing their collegiate eligibility – something that the NCAA strictly forbids.
Ball hopes to find 80 players to fill 10 teams in NBA arenas in Los Angeles, Dallas, Brooklyn, and Atlanta.
And unlike the NCAA, the JBL will use the NBA rules and regulations, meaning there will be four 12-minute quarters a game and an extended three-point line.
Ball told ESPN he was motivated by NCAA president Mark Emmert, who told a SportsBusiness Journal conference earlier this month that playing collegiate sports is about more than simply preparing to turn professional.
‘Is this about someone being part of a university and playing basketball or any other sport with that school’s jersey on, representing that institution, or is it about preparing me for my career, my professional career as a ballplayer?’ said Emmert, when asked about Ball’s decision to pull his two youngest children out of school and have them play professionally in Lithuania rather than attend UCLA.
‘If it’s the latter, you can do that inside a university and that might be a really good way to go,’ he continued. ‘But if you don’t want to and you don’t think that it’s right for your family, then don’t come.’
Ball apparently agreed.
‘He was right,’ Ball said. ‘Those kids who are one-and-done, they shouldn’t be there with the NCAA trying to hold them hostage, not allowing them to keep the jersey they wear while selling replicas of them in stores. So our guy isn’t going to go to Florida State for a year. He’s going to come to our league.’
Players in the JBL would wear all Big Baller Brand apparel, said Ball, who made the league’s logo with a silhouette of son Lonzo.
‘We don’t need a logo of a guy dribbling,’ Ball said, referencing NBA’s famous Jerry West silhouette. ‘Nobody does that anymore.’
The NCAA has come under fire in recent years for making billions off of student athletes, who are only given scholarships as compensation and are prevented from competing in their designated sport outside of collegiate athletics.
The strict NCAA eligibility rules have led to an ongoing FBI and Department of Justice investigation that has already led to charges against 10 individuals accused of bribing recruits and their families as well as coaches to secure commitments to particular schools.
According to NCAA analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas, who also happens to be a former trial attorney with a law degree from Duke, the DoJ has ‘weaponized NCAA rules.’
Now one can face federal charges for affecting the eligibility of student athletes, whom the NCAA forbids from making agreements with agents or profiting off their athletic ability, image, or likeness.
The logic behind the precedent is complicated.
NCAA violations can cause universities to incur fines and other penalties, including the loss of postseason tournament eligibility. The ramifications of these penalties can involve the loss of income from postseason games and the like. And since all colleges take at least $10,000 in federal funding – giving the FBI and DoJ jurisdictional relevance – someone caught violating NCAA rules can be considered to have caused harm to a federally funded institution.
‘So the player is viewed as property and the school is viewed as the victim and I think that is quite a novel theory,’ said Bilas.
Players recruited to the JBL would not be subject to the precedent being set by the FBI and DoJ.