Kiwi athletes at US colleges may be in for lucrative payday

By Aroha Treacher

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has earned billions from its student-athletes over the decades, including many New Zealanders. But in a ground-breaking move, it is supporting a rule change that if passed would allow student-athletes to cash in on their own likeness from as early as next year.

The NCAA is a powerhouse with half a million student-athletes and nearly 20,000 teams.

"I thought it was about time that the NCAA started to look seriously at compensating student-athletes for the hard work that they put in on the sporting field," Leonard King says, General Manager of High Performance at Basketball New Zealand.

"When you go on scholarship, regardless of how good you are, you cannot have a job at the same time so you don't have any extra income. So the only extra income that you can receive is from your parent or guardian," New Zealand Basketball Academy coach Kenny McFadden says.

In the 2016/2017 year, it made US$1 billion and the men's division 1 basketball is its biggest earner.

"It's called March Madness because of course this big tournament that the NCAA makes a lot of income through the TV rights. And that in itself gives you an advantage of the school that is successful, but at the same time none of the players get paid," McFadden says.

Big-name NBA draft prospects like LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton bypassed the college system and went to the pro-leagues instead.

Paul Berridge, co-founder of HoopNation says, "If Kiwi and Australia kids realise that LaMelo came out to play in the Australian NBL and all of a sudden he's a number one draft pick because he spent one season in our league, then that's really got to turn heads for the kids - 'Is there a possibility that I can take that route?'"

Unpaid student-athletes have been a sticking point for decades but if the rule change goes ahead it may not benefit everyone.

"When you're talking about some money that could be made, that's for the people sitting at the elite," McFadden says.

"It's a catch-22 between the pro-leagues and the colleges because they'll be battling for the same kids," Berridge says.

Basketball New Zealand has placed over 100 kiwis on basketball scholarships in USA colleges and McFadden has placed 79 including our only NBA player, Steven Adams.

"We do a lot of discussion around the protection of a person's brand and image," McFadden says.

"It's very important for these young players to have an understanding that education and knowledge is number one," King explains.

If passed, athletes can receive third-party endorsement deals for their likeness, business ventures and social media opportunities, but still cannot receive income directly from universities.