The first pick in the 2002 NBA draft was a 7″5 centre from China. His name was Yao Ming. In 2017, the New Jersey Devils selected Nico Hischier from Switzerland with the first pick in the draft. High schooler Royce Lewis was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2017 MLB Draft.
There is one common trait among all these players. Each of them, despite playing in different sports at different ages, found their way to the top league, all without the help of the NCAA.
The NFL is a different story.
Just, for example, we will be analyzing the pathways for future NBA players. So, what would happen if the NCAA ceased to exist? Well, the attraction to international players is already stronger than it ever has been. Currently, there are over 100 international players in the NBA, including stars such as Kristaps Porzingis, Clint Capela, Karl Anthony-Towns, as well as former MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
Even the potential first-round pick in the 2018 draft is from Europe, with a talented Luka Donic being hailed, like every small forward, as the next Lebron James.
Furthermore, players like Emmanuel Mudiay and Terrence Ferguson have created their own paths. Instead of going to college, young Ferguson went and played for the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian NBL. In the year before, Emmanuel Mudiay played in China rather than going to college. Both these players found their own path to the NBA that didn’t run through the NCAA. And both these players were 1st round picks.
And let’s not forget the NBA’s successful development league, the G-League. With many players perfecting their skills, the G-League has proven that it can develop future stars. Just take Hassan Whiteside, who bounced back and forth between the G-League and the NBA.
These are all alternative paths that provide something the NCAA doesn’t- payment. It has also been noted highly that playing in professional leagues allows young players the experience needed to deal with a professional environment of the NBA. It is the reason that players such as Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetkounmpo made the transition to the league so easily. With the FBI investigation into the NCAA for fraud and payment, many international leagues have opened their arms to these young players, providing not only a higher market and more money but a chance for these young players to stay at the team.
For the NBA, while they may take a short-term hit in regards to the talent level or access to players, the international growth of basketball allows for a very comfortable safety net. From Australia to China to Argentina, the league has many avenues to bring in young players. These avenues have been built over many years and are what has made the talent as strong as ever.
The same cannot be said for the NFL. Of the around 250 picks selected, guess how many were not taken from college. Not a single one. And this is where the NFL has a problem.
The NFL needs the NCAA and the college system to fill their players. While it may be the biggest sport in North America, outside it barely gets a word. Sure, there are still legions of fans who watch it, but the problem is that they only watch it. You can have as many people watching as you’d like, but unfortunately, if they don’t play, the talent pool dries up. Add to this the continuous lawsuits about head trauma and ignored CTE researchers, and the next generation of stars may be dwindling.
This article isn’t designed to state which is better, the NFL or the NBA. However, in regards to international reach and involvement, basketball is winning. This isn’t the fault of the NFL. Similar to the AFL in Australia trying to expand, the NFL can be quite confusing. It’s harder to just play a game of American football as opposed to basketball, where you can run around in your backyard shooting baskets. Additionally, basketball is safer, has more involvement and is easier to understand for the “slower” kids.
But perhaps, part of the NFL’s problem is theirs. Since 2007, the NFL has hosted “international games”. The problem? Well, they aren’t really international. They’ve had a game every year at Wembley Stadium in England, and a game in Mexico City. Yet, when you have countries like Australia with a love for sports, the only exposure to American football has been one college football game in 2016 between two mediocre college teams.
Now the NFL’s failure to expand won’t hurt them in the long run. They boast billions in revenue and have been, and will be, America’s number 1 past time for the last half a century. The problem is that, in the unlikely event that the NCAA were to cease operation, the talent pool is gone. And again, while the NFL has had no part to play in this, the pinch may be hard.
Now obviously, the idea of the NCAA shutting shop anytime soon is insane. For young men who want to play in the highest league, their path will run through the NCAA. And this is where the problem lays.
NCAA won’t change if they don’t need to. What are young linebackers going to do to get into the NFL if they don’t go to college? Nothing. Their only option is the NCAA. The NCAA knows this and that is why, for as long as they can and will, they will hold out the dream of the NFL like a carrot on a stick. Furthermore, the NCAA holds more than a dream over these young men’s eyes. They hold the answer to all their problems. For a lot of young stars, the reason the dream of the NFL was so strong, apart from their love of the game, was because it was a way out. Whether it be getting out of a life of crime or helping your family out, the millions of dollars at the end of the tunnel is worth the one or two years in college right? For the NCAA, this is what they’ll convince you. You can have all the payment controversies, high expectations, poor student treatment and disregard of education as you want. A business (and let’s be clear, that is what the NCAA is), will always hold the power if there is no alternative. The power they hold: the keys to a dream.Mark Emmert runs a monopoly that cannot and won’t be stopped. They can continue to run around unchecked because the NFL needs them.
The NBA can survive without the NCAA. If young players are sick of having their dignity wiped from them by a money hungry, egotistical, bullsh**ter like Emmert, they can find other ways to follow their dreams. Yao Ming, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetkounmpo and Terrence Ferguson have proven this. And considering the way the NBA is going, scouts are most likely going to be less reliant on the NCAA for their future stars.
Baseball and hockey have never and probably will never rely on the NCAA for their future players. Because just like the NBA, they can either a) can draft from places other than college and/or b) they have minor leagues which players can opt into. The NFL has nothing. And again, while we can’t blame the NFL for this, it is them who single-handedly will be the mouth that feeds them.