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N.C.A.A. Reverses ‘Rich Paul Rule’ After Backlash


The N.C.A.A. backtracked on Monday from new criteria it had imposed on agents representing college basketball players considering the N.B.A. draft, dropping the requirement for a bachelor’s degree that had irked several of the game’s stars, including LeBron James.

Instead, the N.C.A.A. said, it will adopt regulations used by the National Basketball Players Association to certify agents — including an option to grant waivers for any prospective agent who does not have a bachelor’s degree.

When the N.C.A.A. announced the regulations last week, James and many others saw the change as taking aim at James’s agent, Rich Paul, who does not have a bachelor’s degree.

Paul, one of the N.B.A.’s most prominent agents, addressed the certification process Monday in an op-ed essay for The Athletic, saying he wasn’t sure if the new rule had been intended to target him. However, Paul wrote that the degree requirement would effectively deter “young people from less prestigious backgrounds, and often people of color” from representing professional players.

While census data from 2016 shows that the percentage of Americans with bachelor’s degrees rose to 33.4 percent, the highest level on record, numerous studies have documented a growing gap along family income lines and an underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students on college campuses.

The N.C.A.A. announced the rules amendment several hours after Paul’s commentary was posted.

This year, for the first time, the N.C.A.A. allowed players entering the N.B.A. draft pool to hire an agent and still be eligible to return to school, as long as they ended their relationship with the agent by a May 29 deadline. More than two dozen players ended up withdrawing from the 2019 draft. But in a sign of how complicated the process can be, Brigham Young forward Yoeli Childs, who entered the draft but pulled out just before the deadline, will be suspended for nine games next season because he hired an agent before filing the necessary N.C.A.A. paperwork.

Paul represents Darius Bazley, who committed to Syracuse but then opted to forgo college and spend much of 2018 training on his own. Bazley was selected 23rd over all in the draft this June, ending up with the Oklahoma City Thunder after circumventing the N.C.A.A. entirely.

The N.C.A.A. came under significant scrutiny for its oversight in 2017, when federal prosecutors announced charges that involved an aspiring agent, Christian Dawkins, who ultimately acknowledged that he helped funnel money to college basketball players and people who might influence their decisions to turn professional. Dawkins did not have a bachelor’s degree.

In response to the investigation, the N.C.A.A. formed the Rice Commission, headed by the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the commission developed an array of policies aimed at cleaning up corruption. In developing regulations for agents, the N.C.A.A. spoke with lawyers for the players’ union about its criteria for certification.

The union lawyers laid out the regulations and answered questions, “but they didn’t seek our recommendation,” said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.

The other new requirements in last week’s N.C.A.A. proposal remain: Agents must be certified for three consecutive years with the N.B.P.A., maintain professional liability insurance and travel to N.C.A.A. headquarters in Indianapolis for an in-person exam.

Roberts was not aware that Paul lacked a bachelor’s degree until last week, but she said there were more important qualifications for representing players.

“It is the experience that one brings to the notion of negotiating pro athletic contracts that is relevant,” Roberts said in an interview Friday. “We don’t think the college degree is the end-all and be-all of competence.”


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