A Framework for Compensating College Athletes

Introduction: These kids need to get paid.

If you don't agree with me on that stance, just stop reading and don't bother commenting. What I want to do here is outline a system that I think could allow for college basketball athletes or athletes that simply are not able to play in the NBA yet to be compensated appropriately. The system I have in mind would involve coordination between the NBA and the NCAA and would require the both of them to make one major organizational change. However, if something like this were to be instituted, I believe you could get as close as possible to an "everybody wins" kind of situation. Along with describing the two organizational changes, I will highlight what I believe to be potential benefits and drawbacks to the system.

Organizational Change for the NBA: Supplemental Draft

I propose that the NBA add an additional draft where only players that are fresh off of their senior year in high school can be drafted. The draft would look exactly the same as the normal draft with two rounds, 60 picks and the same order is utilized. In this draft, instead of drafting the player for the upcoming season's roster, they would be drafting future "rights" to these players. When drafted, the team and the player, along with his agent, would negotiate a one-year contract. After agreeing upon this contract, the player would have the option of either playing under this contract for a college team or for the NBA team's g-league affiliate. I propose that the "effective max" for these contracts is the UDFA minimum for the year (around $800k right now).

Note that if the "one and done" rule gets taken away, and players are again allowed to declare for the true NBA draft right out of high school, this would not affect this draft. If anything it would enrich it. Superstars like Lebron would still get drafted and go straight into the league, but players could also declare for the NBA draft and have the supplemental draft as a backup if they are not drafted.

After the player has played their season with either the college team or the g-league affiliate, a new negotiating process would begin. Depending on how the player performed, there would essentially be three options. 1: The team could offer another contract similar to the first one where the player could play for the g-league affiliate (a 2-way contract perhaps) or another year in college. 2: The team could let the player walk via renouncing their rights. 3: They could offer an NBA contract to the player with the "effective max" being the rookie scale contract for the #1 pick that season (teams can also go over the cap to sign these players as is the case with draft picks).

Also of note, the "rights" to these players would be tradable assets for teams. I propose that the contracts are for these players are similar to coaching staff contracts in that they do not impact the cap. They would be tradable in the same vein as draft picks. There is potential for these "rights" to become hugely valuable. As an example, last year hypothetical rights to Trae Young would have had incredible value early in the college season. You have the upside of a lottery pick with less of the uncertainty.

Organizational Change for the NCAA: Roster Stipend

I propose that the NCAA allow college programs to provide a season stipend to all active players on the roster. This stipend would be part of the program's budget. High profile D1 programs spend huge amounts of money on marketing and staff salaries every year. The stipend would now just be another part of the budget. The sum would be the same for every player on the team.

This would remove what I believe would be a harmful "free agent process" for D1 programs, where college programs are essentially offering contracts to recruits. I think NBA front offices and NBA agents are already set up perfectly to do this. D1 programs would have to build a new infrastructure for this new process and it would likely be expensive. I think that would lead to less money filtering to the players.

A benefit of this option would be competition from major programs. I expect teams like Kentucky, Duke, UNC and Kansas would constantly be setting a new standard of stipend to try to win over recruits.

Hypothetical example:

Player X is taken by the Cavs as the 15th pick in the 2020 supplemental draft. Player X negotiates a 1 year $150k deal with the Cleveland Cavs. Player X then goes to play for the University of Washington where all players receive a $50k stipend. After having a breakout season with UW and leading them to tournament bid, Player X is signed by the Cavs on a 4 year $16 million dollar contract with the first two years guaranteed. RFA awaits Player X assuming both team options are picked up in the 3rd and 4th years.


Let me know what you guys think. There are lots of potential pitfalls to this kind of system that I have thought of (one of which being too many top recruits gathering at the programs with the biggest budgets) along with some I haven't thought of. Please provide any you guys can come up with in the comments along with any tweaks you think would improve this kind of process. I truly do think something like this is better than just free agency though. A player that might be a "glue guy" on a college team should still be compensated in my opinion. This is where the stipend comes in. Superstars should be paid a LOT because of the revenue they are bringing in. This is where the combo of the college contract and the stipend would come in. A college freshman like RJ Barrett/Zion Williamson could potentially end up making $1 million dollars in this type of environment between a max supplemental draft contract and a stipend at a major program. Anyways, any feedback or constructive criticism is welcomed. Thanks,

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