Disrupting the NCAA: First, the FBI. Next, LaMelo Ball.

By Gabriella Diaz*

With all that is going on in the sports world right now, it’s tough to keep track of every story that is unfolding. The bright side is that writers across the country are currently swimming in a pool of content, including Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL[1], the New Jersey sports betting case before the Supreme Court[2], and much more.

But let’s take a moment during all of this to stroll down memory lane. Remember when you were 16 years old— you played a sport, dad pulled you out of high school (you didn’t need it anyways), you released your own sneaker, and you drove a Lamborghini? Me neither. Such is life for the youngest member of the famed Ball family, LaMelo.[3]

Most interestingly on LaMelo’s plate is the question of his future eligibility to play college basketball. Generally speaking, a college athlete or prospect using his or her likeness and/or athletic reputation for financial gain risks the loss of a chance to compete collegiately.[4] The $395 Melo Ball 1 sneakers pose a slight issue for any college basketball dreams he might have, then. So why does any of this matter in the big picture?

The landscape of college basketball was recently plagued by the uncovering of a massive recruiting scandal involving players, coaches, equipment sponsors, and financial advisors. Following a multi-year investigation by the FBI, 10 individuals were arrested, and charges ranged from bribery conspiracy to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The FBI uncovered a scheme in which sports agents and financial advisors paid coaches to influence players into conducting future business with them. Additionally, the spotlight is on an Adidas executive who paid players to attend colleges affiliated with the company.[5]

The NCAA’s response: the formation of the Commission on College Basketball. While none of the charges are targeted toward the NCAA itself, the association’s president, Mark Emmert, acknowledged the need for substantive changes as a result. Emmert claims to be focused on “do[ing] right by the student-athletes” and “protect[ing] the integrity of college sports.”[6]

The commission will focus on 3 areas:

1. “The relationship of the NCAA national office, member institutions, student-athletes and coaches with outside entities.”

2. “The NCAA’s relationship with the NBA.”

3. “Creating the right relationship between the universities and colleges of the NCAA and its national office to promote transparency and accountability.”[7]

It sounds good enough, for now. Truth be told, however, I’m skeptical. I don’t know what, if any, changes will actually come of this commission. In the event that this turns out to be nothing more than an opportunity for the NCAA to save face, it better brace itself for the big wave approaching. Cue LaMelo Ball.

Under the current circumstances, LaMelo should in all likelihood be deemed ineligible. His next move? Sue the NCAA and win. The basis for his hypothetical lawsuit could be an unlawful restraint of trade by the NCAA. LaMelo’s sneakers are already selling; preventing him from engaging in the free market under the guise of amateurism so as to keep money exclusively in coaches’ and athletic directors’ pockets will probably not hold up in court, now more than ever. The FBI probe shined a blinding light on the otherwise shady operations occurring in college basketball programs, leaving the NCAA open to major scrutiny.

So will LaMelo suit up for the UCLA Bruins in 2019, signature kicks and all?[8] He could, but that is, of course, if the NBA hasn’t already thrown out its one-and-done rule.[9]  In that case, fans may need to get ready to see the youngest Ball brother in Lakers uniform. In any event, be prepared to witness a groundbreaking change in the landscape of college sports. And if it happens, be sure to thank LaMelo Ball.

*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2020, Villanova University School of Law

[1] Marc Edelman, Explaining Colin Kaepernick's Collusion Grievance Against The NFL, Forbes, (October 15, 2017), https://www.forbes.com/sites/marcedelman/2017/10/15/explaining-colin-kaepernicks-collusion-grievance-against-the-nfl/#3ee434a9206c.

[2] David Purdum and Ryan Rodenberg, Supreme Court will hear New Jersey sports betting appeal: What's next?, ABC News, (July 19, 2017), http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/supreme-court-hear-jersey-sports-betting-appeal/story?id=48725240.

[3] Tania Ganguli, LaVar Ball doesn't care what NCAA has to say about shoe deal of son LaMelo, a UCLA recruit, Los Angeles Times, (Sept. 2, 2017), http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-lamelo-ball-eligibility-20170902-story.html.

[4] Summary of NCAA Eligibility Regulations - NCAA Division I, NCAA, https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/2017-18DIIICOMP_Summary_of_NCAA_Regulations_20170606.pdf.

[5] John Gasaway, What you need to know about the FBI's NCAA basketball investigation, ESPN, (Sept. 26, 2017), http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/20826573/what-need-know-fbi-ncaa-basketball-investigation.

[6] Statement From President Mark Emmert on the Formation of a Commission on College Basketball, NCAA, (Oct. 11, 2017), http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/statement-president-mark-emmert-formation-commission-college-basketball.

[7] Commission on College Basketball, NCAA, http://www.ncaa.org/governance/ncaa-commission-college-basketball.

[8] Gary Parrish, UCLA accepts verbal commitment from 13-year-old star LaMelo Ball, CBS Sports, (Aug. 1, 2015), https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/ucla-accepts-verbal-commitment-from-13-year-old-star-lamelo-ball/.

[9] The Associated Press, N.B.A. Commissioner Is Ready for Change in ‘One-and-Done’ Rule, The New York Times, (Jun. 1, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/sports/basketball/adam-silver-nba-draft-one-and-done.html.