Professional Collegiate League Provides New Path to NBA

There are conflicts inherent in the experiences of college basketball players in the NCAA.

Whether that takes the form of not being able to choose certain majors because the class schedule conflicts with sports commitments or well-documented “paper classes” designed to keep athletes academically eligible without them doing any actual classwork, the academic experience of athletes at NCAA-member institutions can suffer because of the unpaid basketball prioritization.

The solution to this problem doesn’t exist in the current model, in which educational institutions are essentially also trying to run an athletic entertainment company. The best answer may be reinventing the wheel instead of trying to fine-tune it.

That’s where the Professional Collegiate League comes in.

Formerly the Historical Basketball League, the PCL has a simple concept for radically redefining the current model of men’s college basketball: Separate the academics and athletics so that both aspects of players’ collegiate experiences can work together instead of in competition with each other.

“The PCL is a single entity that owns and operates each team in the league and employs each athlete,” PCL CEO Ricky Volante said.

“Our model is built on player empowerment and choice, which is why our athletes are able to attend any four-year or two-year university/college or vocational program in the city that they play or accredited online program. Introducing specific universities into the model (e.g., one team represents a single university) would recreate the conflicts of interest and other issues that exist in the current model of college athletics.”

Volante says that the PCL views educational institutions as “fantastic educational partners” and that part of players’ compensation is scholarship funds. Those scholarships are available to be completed on a non-continuous basis, so athletes can choose to finish their degrees after their basketball careers end.

The biggest way that the PCL will avoid the conflict of academics with athletics is in scheduling, however. The league calendar runs during the summer instead of during traditional school terms. Beyond that, players will also receive a salary and other benefits.

“The PCL offers athletes the opportunity to monetize their individual name, image, and likeness without restriction,” Volante elaborated. “That’s something that not even California would offer if, and it’s a big if, SB206 goes into effect in 2023. Further, we are developing a superior personal and professional development model for our athletes that will better prepare them for the professional game.”

Former NBA player David West is part of the PCL’s basketball operations team and will be part of that development model. West will rely on his experience with the Garner Road Basketball Club in Raleigh, N.C. , which has for the past 17-plus years developed some of the best players in the state. Among those is Indiana Pacers swingman TJ Warren, who occupies a spot on the PCL’s Athlete Advisory Board.

Dec 27, 2019; Miami, Florida, USA; Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren (1) warms up before a game aMiami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Warren and West aren’t the only current or former NBA players heavily involved in the PCL, however:

  • Mahmoud Abdul-Raaf
  • Henry Bibby
  • Darren Collison
  • Jimmy King
  • Butch Lee
  • Mitch Richmond (Basketball Hall of Famer)
  • Etan Thomas
  • CJ Watson

While it’s impossible to deny that the PCL can provide a better academic and economic experience for male basketball players coming out of high school, the question is whether those athletes who have ambitions of playing in the NBA will get the same exposure that they would by playing the sport for an NCAA-member institution.

Volante says that the PCL is working on negotiating the rights to all analysis, behind-the-scenes and game content. The considerations include both direct-to-consumer and over-the-top channels right now. Athletes working directly with brands to market themselves (without any restrictions) is a huge upside that PCL players can leverage to make up for any perceived gaps in exposure from not being on networks like CBS and ESPN.

Another fact that should quell any athletes’ fears of being out of sight and out of mind is that NBA franchises are no longer laser-focused on solely getting their talent from the ranks of NCAA-member institutions. Consider that LaMelo Ball is considered a top-three draft pick despite his playing in the Australian National Basketball League or that James Wiseman’s draft stock may have gone unaltered after leaving the University of Memphis.

Nov 8, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers center James Wiseman (32) walks off the court after the game against the Illinois-Chicago Flames at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

If a player has the talent, NBA teams will find him.

The PCL should not be seen as an alternative to the NBA’s G-League, however. There’s no opportunity to get a two-way contract with an NBA team in the PCL. Conversely, there’s no educational component to the G-League.

For some players, the G-League may still be the best choice. It’s crucial for athletes to hire professional representation that can help them make these decisions, although that’s yet another right that NCAA athletes have to forfeit in the status quo. Players who are weighing the PCL, however, will find no issues hiring counsel either before or during their time in that league.

While the PCL is only hiring male basketball players as far as athletic talent goes right now, male athletes who play other sports and female athletes will be able to take part in the PCL soon. Volante says that the PCL plans to launch its first women’s league by 2025 and that the PCL has identified several sports for both men and women that its board feels fits well with the league’s business model.

Many athletes may never sniff an NBA contract, but the PCL can still be a great avenue for them. It will allow them to realize their potential academically, athletically and economically at the moment regardless of what the future holds. While the PCL endeavors to provide a better path to the NBA for players with that ambition, there’s no reason why that path should be only a means to an end.

In the PCL, the journey to that destination can be rewarding for its athletes as well.