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Five questions on NBA subsidies idea for college athletes

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

Adam Silver is open to a conversation about college player subsidies.  (USATSI)
Adam Silver is open to a conversation about college player subsidies. (USATSI)

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When NBA commissioner Adam Silver told a group of business representatives this week that the NBA would "consider" subsidies for college athletes as part of a three-way agreement between the NBPA and the NCAA that would help in raising the NBA's age limit, it sparked a lot of interest. The idea also raised questions.

Here are five immediate questions that spring up. Bear in mind, it wasn't reported that Silver provided any significant details, nor that this idea had been broached with the NCAA or NBPA, nor even developed internally. This is more of a look at the possible ramifications if all sides elected to move forward with a possble plan.

1. How would the money be distributed?

Would the money be provided to schools, to distribute to their teams based on merit? Could players apply for the subsidies to the NBA, and how would their merit be evaluated? Would the NBA really evaluate a player's pro prospects as an 18-year-old freshman and provide subsidy based on their value as a player?

If it's distributed to the universities, could the schools then elect to distribute it evenly, which would then result in the bench players receiving as much as the blue-chip players? If it's not financial compensation, how would the "necessities" as Silver coined them, be provided? Vouchers? Actual material goods? (I suddenly have this image of drones delivering pizzas to Shabazz Napier.)

And if the NBA is providing the funds to the schools for distribution, what's the oversight process to ensure that the money and/or goods and services are distributed appropriately? Is the NBA going to employ a series of regulators?

But the main question is the one listed above. Is Julius Randle going to get the same level of subsidy as a second-round pick, or a player with little ability or designs on turning pro?

2. What does this mean for the other sports?

This gets sticky very quickly. What happens with football, first and foremost?

Football teams have a scholarship maximum of 85 players at the Division 1 Level. Some of the larger schools, those roster expand to more than 100. What's the fallout of the NBA providing these subsidies for players on teams that are a fraction of that size? The NFL maxes exponentially more than the NBA, but let's say the NBA employs an even distribution model as listed above. If the NFL looks to replicate these measures, think about how much money they'd be shelling out.

But that's assuming the NFL would. Would the NFL feel pressured to provide a similar system? The NFL's powerful enough to avoid the question, but may only intensify potential fallout. If the NBA is offering disability insurance, and more money at the pro level as they currently do, is that going to push more and more high school athletes toward basketball? The skill and requisite size are harder to attain, but it is a potential consequence when athletes look at their futures.

And then beyond football, you've got all the other sports. Would MLB or NHL follow suit? And what happens to the athetes of sports that don't provide the revenue of football or basketball, but nonetheless have very real, tangible impacts on their schools' athletic programs' profitability without a viable professional league to subsidize them?

3. Is "need" part of the equation?

Silver's discussion of the idea was primarily a reaction to Shabazz Napier's claim that he went hungry during his time at UConn. Silver reportedly said "I think if [Napier] is saying he is going hungry, my God, it seems hard to believe, but there should be ample food for the players."

The problem is relative "need." If you're a heavier player, a true big man, can you argue you "need" more food? But that's a simple thing. What about the fact that many of these players have families they're trying to provide for, sons and daughters in some case, or brothers and sisters?

You can say those isses aren't the NBA's or the NCAA's problem, but the fact that those players can't turn pro and earn a living very much is. If you're going to acknowledge that the age limit hinders the ability to provide for basic necessities, you have to go down the road of asking what defines "necessity" and that's going to lead to some uncomfortable truths about the lives of athletes.

4. Do you tier the subsidize level based on pro prospects?

The NCAA provides a loan rate based on pro prospects for disability suffered during college play. So there's already an evaluaion system in place, to a degree. Remember, we're talking about pro prospects here, not the best player on the team. Napier just led his team to the NCAA championship, but he's not losing as much money by not being able to turn pro his first two seasons as, say, Julius Randle.

So would the NBA put itself in the place of determining who's worthy of what? Giving that discretion to the teams seems like a bad idea, with the potential to use it to keep players good for the program not in pursuit of the players' best interests.

And you know the NBPA is not going to handle this process. The NBPA couldn't handle assigning points to an NBA2K create-a-player right now.

You could concievably create tiers, with players applying for subsidy and then being allocated, much like in Harry Potter. It's just a process fraught with concerns.

5. Is this really enough to justify the concerns?

Bear in mind that in sports talk radio, sites like this one, and the insular sports community, this is spoken of in sports terms. What's good for the players in a sports environment? What helps the teams? What's "fair?"

But the objections that are becoming louder are not as simple. They're about labor and civil rights. These conversations are turning to legality and the justice, not fairness, of the system. This is a good faith effort by Silver if in fact he pursues it. It's a great step. But it won't go far enough for most players nor their advocates. And that's the conflict Silver is setting himself up against with his push to increase the age limit. It's good that he's seeking compromise to help both sides of the equation, as opposed to the more draconian approach of the NFL.

But by opening the door, he's only going to further the conversation about what's best for the athletes. And that conversation doesn't lead to places that are necessarily best for the NBA, his first priority.

CBSSports.com's Jerry Hinnen contributed to this article.

 
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