On Thursday, April 16, top California basketball senior Jalen Green took to Instagram live to announce his decision to skip college and become the first participant in the NBA G League professional pathway program. The Prolific Prep school shooting guard was an elite NCAA prospect, ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s 2020 recruiting class rankings. Green rejected 20 official offers from major basketball programs like the University of Kentucky, Auburn, UCLA and Villanova for the G League’s new development program.
The NBA unveiled the plans for the program in October of 2018. According to a press release, the league introduced select contracts as “part of a comprehensive professional path will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.” The release described the program to include “year round professional growth” including summer basketball workouts in partnership with programs like NBA Summer League, and education programs for professional and personal growth.
Though it appears that the program may have taken a bit longer to develop than initially planned, Jalen Green’s decision to commit to the G League sets a huge precedent for elite athletes like him. While the NCAA introduced an act to allow athletes to profit from their likeness in November of 2019, the effort could be too little too late for future top prospects like Green.
The NCAA relies on an amateurism model that has been condemned by critics as the “shame of college sports.” Enforcing strict regulations to ensure that athletes are compensated no more than the cost of their college education, the NCAA has been a necessary step in the path to the NBA for many top players. However, top 2020 draft prospects like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton already chose to play professionally in Australia this year over going to top NCAA programs.
Even with the NCAA’s new NIL policy set to go into effect in 2021, only college athletes in California will be allowed to supplement their scholarship compensation with profit from the use of their name, image and likeness. With the G League professional Pathway offering Jalen Green $500,000 and up according to ESPN’s sources, top league prospects like him no longer have any need to consider sacrificing potential profit for the NCAA, or making the giant leap of leaving the country to play professional basketball overseas.
March Madness is the NCAA’s largest stream of income to the tune of $867.5 million from “television and marketing rights alone” according to MSN Money. Even if the NCAA’s new NIL policy is alluring enough to top recruits, this could mean a major shift in the college basketball landscape, as a possible result of more top players choosing California schools than ever before. Unless the NCAA makes a major change, Jalen Green will likely be part of the first wave of elite players to consider other options for professional development after high school. Moreover, he might prove to be the first of a much larger migration of top athletes away from the NCAA that could revolutionize college sports as we know them today.