NCAA president Mark Emmert: High school players should have pro options

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- NCAA president Mark Emmert said the NBA should create a way for basketball players to pursue professional opportunities after high school, but he expects amateurism to remain in college sports.

At his annual news conference at the Final Four on Thursday, Emmert said he's in favor of a model that would allow basketball players to turn pro after high school, adding that the newly formed Commission on College Basketball, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, would offer its full recommendations on amateurism and other issues in late April.

The commission was formed after a bribery scandal rocked the sport and led to the arrests of four Division I assistants before the season. The FBI has threatened to identify and catch other culprits in the sport.

"I personally think that there needs to be more room for individuals who want to pursue professional sports to be able to do that, particularly in basketball," Emmert said at the Alamodome. "There needs to be the ability for a young person and his family to say, 'You know, what I really want to do is just become a professional ballplayer.' And they ought to be provided that opportunity if they don't want to go to college."

Emmert said he does not, however, anticipate a climate that would put compensation for college athletes on the table. He said paying players would not encourage players to "follow rules."

"If young people have options and they can choose, 'Do I want to be a professional athlete and play this game for money, or do I want to play this game as part of a higher educational experience, gain all the advantages and benefits that come with being a college student and take advantage of everything that's there for me, and then maybe play professionally afterwards or maybe not,' then they need to make that decision," Emmert said. "That's a choice that needs to be there. But people fully understand that when you go into a collegiate environment, you're not doing that to become an employee of a university. And there is, as we said earlier, no interest in higher education of turning college athletes into employees that are hired and fired by universities."

Right now, players can enter the NBA draft only after they turn 19 and they're a year removed from high school graduation, a rule that was first implemented in 2006. Only NBA owners and the players' union could jointly negotiate a new age limit for the NBA draft. In recent months, power brokers in the NBA and college have discussed a model that would allow players to enter the draft out of high school. Some have referenced the "baseball" model. Baseball players can either sign with a pro team after school or must remain in college for multiple years before they're allowed to enter the draft.

Emmert said that model might not work for college basketball, in part because the G League isn't as strong as baseball's minor leagues. He said "it's up to the NBA" to enhance the G League and make it a more attractive option for high school talent.

"You have to recognize every sport is different," Emmert said. "The relationship with the professional sports is different. And, of course, baseball has this very large, very successful minor league system. Basketball has a very modest one. And football has none. So every one of them is different."

Added Eric Kaler, Minnesota's president and chair of the Division I board of directors who joined Emmert at the news conference: "Baseball is different from the other ones. And so unless there is a much stronger developmental league in the NBA, I would put a bet that we're not going to see [the baseball model]. But, again, we don't know what the commission will recommend."