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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Zion’s broken shoe raises questions about NCAA


When Zion Williamson’s sneaker exploded and the potential 2019 first overall NBA draft pick fell over clutching his right knee, the entire basketball world held their breath. His Duke teammates, NBA scouts and especially the higher-ups at the NCAA saw their golden goose squirming on the hardwood with a lame wing.

In the weeks that followed, an idea began to spread. The idea that Williamson shouldn’t subject himself to the chance of further injury and should sit out the rest of the NCAA season. He shouldn’t risk his spot at the top of every NBA draft board just for Duke.

Of course, Williamson would never do this. One doesn’t become one of the top players in their class by lacking a competitive drive. He doesn’t seem to be selfish enough to dishonor his collegiate commitment.

But should he be selfish?

When it comes to playing more college basketball, everyone has something to gain besides Williamson. ESPN televises Duke nationally every chance they get. They produced a documentary about the team on ESPN+ and have been posting Williamson’s ridiculous dunks since he was a junior at Spartanburg Day School.

The NCAA has certainly benefited by having their own personal human highlight reel playing. This season, there has been a reason to tune into games like Duke vs. Hartford because nobody wants to miss a chance to see Williamson do something spectacular.

He has been one of the most electrifying players in college basketball history. However, he won’t see a single dime of the money he has generated for the NCAA.

By continuing to play for Duke, Zion could be risking millions of dollars. Even a drop from first overall to second could represent a $5 million discrepancy. He also plays with no insurance. If Williamson, god forbid, suffers a career-ending injury, he could lose out on $40 million.

This scenario has happened before. Last season, Michael Porter Jr. entered the season as a potential top three pick. He suffered a back injury in the first half of his collegiate debut for the University of Missouri and missed the rest of the season. He ended up being picked 14th and will only make half of what the first overall pick, Deandre Ayton, will net over the course of his rookie contract.

These examples do technically have a safety net. They are highly rated prospects who never really faced the possibility of not getting drafted. What about players where that is a very real question?

Say there was a player on a mid to major basketball team. He was one of the better players in his conference but doesn’t necessarily have realistic NBA aspirations. He is one of the biggest draws of his team’s games, generating plenty of ticket sales for the school.

Towards the end of his junior year, he goes up for a rebound and comes down on his knee wrong. He sits out the rest of the season, and when he returns for his senior year he isn’t the same. He is slow, lacks mobility and there are no professional teams willing to offer him a contract.

This player gave up his body for his school and will now have nothing to show for it. He won’t fulfill his dream of playing professionally and the only people with anything to show for his career are those within the NCAA, counting all of the revenue this player brought them.

Strictly in terms of logic, Williamson shouldn’t play for Duke. The NBA is currently working towards getting rid of the one-and-done rule which will allow high school players to be eligible for the NBA draft, a change that would have allowed Williamson to never step foot on Duke’s campus.

This rule will help players like Williamson and Porter Jr., but it shouldn’t be the end of restructuring college basketball. The NCAA has a stranglehold on the finances of every athlete under their flag. Their players aren’t paid the proverbial fair wage for their work.

So while players like Williamson have the potential rule change to look forward to, there are still players who will be stuck in the college system, risking everything with the potential of getting nothing in return.

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