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What's the Word: LaMelo Ball's NCAA Eligability

November 26, 2017


With LiAngelo Ball (the middle ball brother and Lonzo's immediate younger sibling) having put his basketball career in serious jeopardy, it made me go back to a question we all had about the youngest Ball brother and his budding career, both as a player on the court and a pitchman off of it. 


Could LaMelo Ball’s signature shoe affect his NCAA Eligibility?


I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the news: LaMelo Ball, a high school sophomore and one of the nation’s top basketball recruits, is releasing his own signature shoe with his family’s Big Baller Brand. This announcement has many implications, but one of the biggest is in regards to LaMelo’s eligibility status with the NCAA. He is currently committed to play college basketball at UCLA once he graduates from high school. Based on the NCAA’s current regulations, this shoe deal could affect his eligibility. 



The specific bylaws that LaMelo Ball could be found in violation of are as follows:


12.1.2: “Amateur status is lost if the student-athlete uses athletics skill for pay” “ A student-athlete is ineligible if compensated for advertisement, commercial promotion, endorsement” “ Use of name or picture without knowledge or permission carries the simultaneous burden for the student-athlete and the institution to take steps to stop use” 


Here’s a couple more notes and definitions to better understand the thinking behind the NCAA’s bylaws and why they have come under debate as of late:


The NCAA is operating under an idea of amateurism in which “student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation”

avocation is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one's vocation especially for enjoyment”, with “hobby” as a synonym


Essentially, the NCAA was originally established to maintain standards for students whose participation in collegiate athletics was secondary to something else


With all this in mind, let’s examine the case for and against LaMelo Ball’s NCAA eligibility:


The Case Against LaMelo Ball's eligibility:


The NCAA has shown in the past to be incredibly stringent when it comes to ‘protecting’ (its own words) its student-athletes' amateur status. In the NCAA’s view, anything an athlete does to make money that is even tangentially related to the student’s status as an athlete is a no-go. Past cases the NCAA has deemed a violation of this doctrine have included a party thrown and organized by a University of Oregon wide receiver and a YouTube channel run by a kicker from UCF. In both cases, the NCAA deemed it a violation of their policies for these students to pursue any venture which could be viewed as being related to the visibility of the individual, even if these ventures were not in any way related to their pursuits on the football field. In 2002 the NCAA asked an incoming University of Colorado freshman to forgo modeling and acting opportunities, which came about after his time as an Olympic skier and before he had enrolled at the University. 


The Case For LaMelo Ball's Eligibilty:


Keeping in mind the NCAA's own definition of 'amateurism', one could argue that the NCAA is operating under a flawed or outdated definition of the concept, and that the increased competition for and attention towards high school recruits has eliminated the idea that collegiate level athletes are competing purely for leisure. It is becoming increasingly clear to all observers that highly recruited athletes are using NCAA competition as a stepping stone towards their professional aspirations. The NCAA being aware of this, it would be difficult for them to continue to make the argument that they are protecting amateur athletes who have been conducting themselves like professionals since high school, who train like pros, and whose main reason for competing is to earn a spot at the next level. Despite all that, the reality is that the vast majority of NCAA athletes will never compete at the professional level (or like they say in their cheesy ad campaign "go pro in something other than sports"). This being the case, it would seem out of place to uproot the entire system because of the few athletes who will be playing at the next level. 


So let's look at another angle: whether or not LaMelo Ball has actually done anything that would, based on the rules currently in place, adversely affect his NCAA eligibility. On the surface it seems like a clear 'yes': he's endorsing a shoe, after all. But the NCAA rules specifically address an athlete's doing so for financial gain and  we don't know whether or not LaMelo Ball is actually getting paid. It is a family business, after all (just imagine LaVar Ball: "I let you live in this house for free!"). He could presumably maintain his eligibility by simply choosing to refrain from any product endorsing for the duration of his NCAA career, which by all indications will be brief. 



So, how does this bode for LaMelo? At the end of the day, it's at the discretion of the NCAA. In the words of LaVar Ball: "who cares?", either way it goes, the Ball family is getting paid. 

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