Matthew Epps, a Spring 2010 J.D. Candidate (like me) from Villanova University School of Law (unlike me), just received a high honor entering his third and final year of law school; he was published in his school’s Sports and Entertainment Law Journal. His piece: FULL COURT PRESS: HOW COLLECTIVE BARGAINING WEAKENED THE NBA’S COMPETITIVE EDGE IN A GLOBALIZED SPORT (16 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 343).
My reading of Matthew’s piece is at a very apropos time. I just placed my first basketball client overseas, and earlier today, discussed a possible NCAA rule change that would allow high school graduates to play professionally overseas and retain their student-athlete eligibility. I believe that the rule change would open the NBA up to even more competition against the international market; athletes will be more comfortable with traveling across the ocean to play in a foreign country if they have previous experience playing there before college.
Matthew’s premise is that basketball competition overseas is now credible, which serves as a big threat to the NBA under its current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The The Union of European Leagues of Basketball (ULEB) and its exclusive Euroleague have been able to acquire strong talent from the United States in the past few years. While the NBA does not allow any athletes under the age of 19 to play its game, FIBA (the entity in charge of creating rules and regulations in Europe), allows 18-year-olds to play in the ULEB. FIBA does not regulate player contracts or salary caps, but teams may be bound by their country’s or European Union’s labor laws. No salary cap means that players will be valued properly…remember rumors of Kobe Bryant considering going overseas…purely because the NBA’s salary cap restricts his ceiling.
Other benefits of playing overseas include the creativity that owners are able to use to secure players. They often offer cars, residences, rent, and flights in their contracts. Sometimes, players are even given the right to become partial owners of their team and can sell advertising space on their uniforms. And then compare the Euro to the U.S. Dollar.
Meanwhile, the NBA implements a salary cap, allows owners the possibility to have restricted free agents, and tells 18-year-olds ready to play after high school, that they have to wait a year.
Epps says that a free agent transfer agreement with Euroleague is not plausible. It would be challenged in U.S. and EU courts. Instead, Commissioner Stern might want to consider expanding into Europe now, and create a few NBA teams across the Atlantic Ocean to compete in an NBA Europe. I believe that an NBA Europe is an interesting idea, but it would have to be totally distinct from the NBA in the U.S. Although there could be a “World Championship” between the winner of the NBA Finals and NBA Europe Finals. That would make for some good T.V.
Another solution: Get rid of this one-and-done rule!