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Mark Cuban wants elite basketball prospects in the D-League, not college

Mar 2, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

Mark Cuban

The NCAA treats top-level basketball players terribly. A cartel system keeps their compensation artificially low and binds them to needlessly restrictive rules.

But there’s no great alternative.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wants to change that. Cuban, via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“I think what will end up happening — and this is my opinion, not that of the league — is if the colleges don’t change from the one-and-done, we’ll go after the one,” Cuban said. “The NCAA rules are so hypocritical, there’s absolutely no reason for a kid to go [to college], because he’s not going to class [and] he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball. So if the goal is just to graduate to the NBA or be an NBA player, go to the D-League.”

“We can get rid of all the hypocrisy and improve the education,” Cuban said. “If the whole plan is just to go to college for one year maybe or just the first semester, that’s not a student-athlete. That’s ridiculous.

“You don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to pretend. A major college has to pretend that they’re treating them like a student-athlete, and it’s a big lie and we all know it’s a big lie. At least at most schools, not all. … But we can put more of an emphasis on their education. We can plan it out, have tutors. We can do all kinds of things that the NCAA doesn’t allow schools to do that would really put the individual first.”

“We’d have to make it so where there’d be very strict policies and rules so that, even if you’re not going to go to [college] class, there’s going be life [skills] classes — how do you deal with the world? — and you have to attend those. You have to keep up with those. We’d have very strict [rules] on why you’d be suspended if you didn’t live up to them. Things that should be done to student-athletes in college and are just not. Or not always.”

I don’t understand why Cuban is calling for college to “change from the one-and done.” One-and-done is an NBA rule.

Forced by the pro league to spend one year after high school elsewhere, players go to college for a season. The college are then stuck integrating those players.

If the NBA allowed players to jump straight from high school, colleges would either let them go or improve conditions to attract them. Instead, the NBA gives the NCAA a near-monopoly for 18-year-old American basketball players.

I like the idea of the D-League competing with the NCAA for players, ideally improving conditions for the players in the process. But there are two major obstacles to Cuban’s plan – player salary and coach salary.

The D-League maximum salary is under $30,000. If Cuban is offering comparable educational opportunities to NCAA schools, that $30,000 would be on top of what colleges offer above the table.

However, as we all know, sometimes college players get paid under the table, too. Chris Webber received, depending whom you believe, between $38,200 and $280,000 from a booster – and that was more than 20 years ago. The rate has surely gone up.

There are advantages to payments being made in the open, but the D-League must come close to college’s secret payments – no matter how much they are – to really turn the tide.

That’s because the best American coaches outside the NBA reside in the NCAA.

John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and many others have long track records of preparing players for the NBA. With their huge profits, college programs can afford to keep those coaches.

D-League coaches make an average of $75,000 per year, according to Sam Amick of USA Today. The lowest-paid Division I coach in USA Today’s database makes $115,000 – and that’s Roman Banks of Southern in the SWAC. Elite basketball prospects aren’t going to Southern, and they won’t go to the D-League if that minor league can’t attract coaches who can help them.

Cuban is on the right track. His proposal just doesn’t go far enough.

For the D-League to get top prospects, it must pay players more and not fall into the NCAA’s mistake of compensating players with classes they don’t necessarily value. If players want higher education, they can spend their salary on it – just like you, me and Cuban.

Whoever starts treating top basketball prospects like real employees, whether it’s the NCAA or D-League or another entity, will win this battle.

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