Andrew Bogut knows how powerful the madness really is. After all, the NCAA positioned him for life-altering opportunities in the NBA.
“The NCAA obviously helped me put myself on the map when coming to the NBA,” Bogut readily admits.
It has now been 11 years since Bogut finished his amateur career. He spent two seasons at the University of Utah, leading the Utes to a sweet sixteen appearance in 2005.
Bogut was arguably the best collegiate player in North America during his sophomore season. He was a highly touted professional prospect on an otherwise forgettable Utes roster. When the NCAA tournament of 2005 arrived, Bogut was simultaneously leading his school to its third deepest tournament run since 1966, while kicking off the most important job interview of his lifetime.
Utah’s tournament run ended at the hands of Kentucky, a defeat that also marked the end of Bogut’s collegiate career. Just three months later, Bogut was selected with the number one overall pick in 2005’s NBA draft. In the blink of an eye, the young Australian, who was born of Croatian migrants had made the big time.
Being drafted into the Association with such esteem may have been possible without Utah (and the NCAA), but it definitely lent a hand in Bogut's budding career back then. I mean, the man admitted as much himself. Two years in college helped Bogut forge a path to successes previously unobtainable for young Australian males.
Bogut suggests the next generation of Australian athletes follow his path into the NCAA system, although the recommendation comes with an almighty disclaimer.
“I’m not a huge fan of the NCAA and the way they run their business,” Bogut told The Pick and Roll. “But I’ve always been an advocate of kids coming over here before they sign a professional contract.”
Bogut advocating for the NCAA --if you can even call it that-- may come across as disingenuous to some, given his record of taking shots at the establishment. Contrary to first impressions however, Bogut is actually calling for young men to use the very limited leverage they have, to combat a compromised NCAA model.
“If you don’t like it a day or two later, it’s not a binding agreement,” Bogut said. “You can leave.
“So come over. If you decide it’s for you, you stay. If you decide [later], ‘hey I gave it a crack for a couple of months and didn’t like it, so I’m going to go sign professionally now?' I always suggest that to kids so they don’t get to 30 or 35 and wish that they went to college and experience that.”
Bogut knows the system, its benefits and the obvious shortcomings. The NCAA still represents the quickest route to the NBA or a sustained professional career anywhere in the world. To overlook that would be akin to short-changing oneself. While Bogut will gladly speak to what upside is embedded into the collegiate system, that doesn’t equate to forgiving the NCAA based on the results of its alumni.
“The NCAA shouldn’t be let slide just because you get drafted and go through that pathway,” Bogut noted. “You’re still the one putting in the work.”
What is the pathway?
We touched on the mechanics of the NCAA system back in December. Why Ben Simmons spoke out, how the NBA acts as an invisible hand, why Simmons was arguably forced into college and of paramount importance, what it means for Australian kids going forward.
According to ESPN, there were 21 Australian men, across 14 college teams, participating in this year’s NCAA tournament. That, from the almost 70 males who competed in NCAA Division 1 basketball this season.
“With D2, D3 and NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics], there would probably be 200 or 300,” Bogut said. He is correct, there are now hundreds of Australian males playing college ball across the North American circuit and those numbers are skyrocketing with annual consistency.
“It just goes to show we [Australia] produce good talent,” Bogut noted. “Kids that want to work hard, kids that try to play the right way.
“I think they appeal to colleges because they come over and are almost professional with their work ethic. I think it’s really impressive.”
Impressive seems like the perfect word for the current state of affairs. That’s not an indictment on the past as much as it’s confirmation of the present. Before Bogut, the likes of Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze had succeeded via the collegiate route but it wasn’t the widely accepted mainstream path.
“The NCAA [as an option for Australian kids] started a little bit during my first couple of years,” Bogut said. “Now it’s almost a must for Australians if you want to do anything in basketball.”
In 2017, the pathway appears clear. When you consider self-interest, education and basketball dollars, the choice to play college ball isn’t really a choice anymore. It’s a no-brainer.
“Most kids want to come over,” Bogut added.
While that’s the state of affairs in 2017, it hasn’t always been this way. Going to college was never an option for someone like Joe Ingles.
“I was never going to go,” Ingles told The Pick and Roll. A teenage Ingles had a handful of meetings with college teams but admits he never had any desire to make the move.
“I never really had the passion to go and do it,” Ingles added. “I wanted to stay in Australia.”
Ingles grew up watching the Adelaide 36ers, idolising Brett Maher and that was the dream. “Seeing [Maher] do that and play for Australia, that was all I wanted to do growing up,” Ingles remembered.
In a hypothetical world where Ingles attended an American college, his freshman season would have been 2006, just 11 years ago and a season removed from Bogut’s NBA debut. Back in 2006, Australia’s profile basketball athletes were more accessible at home than abroad. In the space of just over a decade, a digital revolution has changed that.
It’s now easier to watch St Mary’s College of California, the alma mater of Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills, play from the outskirts of Oakland, as it is to witness the Adelaide 36ers. Ben Simmons got more airplay during his collegiate season than any player in the NBL. Isaac Humphries and Harry Froling already have an established standing.
Each anecdote is representative evidence that the pathway to basketball nirvana for Australian males, now requires a one-way ticket out of the country. Talented Australian teenagers do not play in the NBL anymore. Their high prolife idols are overseas, as too are the truly life-altering opportunities.
The ideals that hooked Ingles into playing in Australia now struggle to exist, a circumstance that could make Ingles’ decision to stay home one of the last of its kind.
“It’s worked out well. I wouldn’t change it,” Ingles reaffirmed, when asked about his decision to bypass college and stay in Australian. That said, Ingles does acknowledge the debate over turning professional is quarantined to the person and that every case is different.
“Some guys go there [NCAA] more for the education than actually going to play basketball,” Ingles said. “You get a free education and you can have some fun playing hoops as well.”
Putting in the work
As Ingles suggests, tuition free study in exchange for athletic efforts may be suitable for some. It is probably sufficient for the majority of young athletes. But for those destined to reach the next level --like Andrew Bogut or Ben Simmons-- the interests of the majority don’t add up.
There is no question which side of the pay for play line Bogut stands on.
During our conversation, Bogut was quick to point out Schooled: The Price of College Sports, a documentary published in 2013 that explains how collegiate sports became a billion dollar industry. The film, which is based on Taylor Branch’s book The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, harrows back to the dawn of NCAA amateurism and offers a valuable history lesson on how this evolved over the twentieth century.
The documentary focuses in on the subject of exploitation, an issue that Bogut has been more than willing to speak out on.
“Look, they play it publically very well,” Bogut said. “Where regular Joe students say ‘I am paying for my books and my food and my board.’ Fair point, but you’re also not practising 20-25 hours a week, you’re not travelling, you’re not missing classes, you’re not trying to catch-up on school work, you don’t have mandatory study hall.”
From listening to Bogut, you are quickly reminded how the lives of student athletes differ from that of a regular college student. Going by time commitment alone, any objective mind will make the link to the requirements of an employee serving their time.
Business Insider previously discussed a NCAA survey, that estimated the average basketball student athlete spent over 39 hours a week practicing during the season. For what it’s worth, official NCAA edicts forbid this volume of athletically related activates.
Bogut cites examples of not being able to take a girl out to the movies and not being able to take his family out when they came to visit because he didn’t have the money. “You can’t afford to do it. Literally, you can’t afford to do it.” That was how Bogut described his college financial situation.
The Australian was forced to get a job at a sports bar just to make some extra money to pay the rent, all because he was unable to benefit from his athletic pursuits while in college.
“They sell my jersey in the bookstore and I’m eating off a dollar menu at Wendy’s or Burger King,” Bogut remembers. "There’s something wrong with that.”
Bogut’s sentiment echoes a chorus of now-professional athletes, who are simply advocating student athletes receive enough money to live comfortably, not the millions of dollars college students may actually be entitled to in a free market economy.
“For me, $10,000 a semester, $5,000 a semester, I’d live like a king in college,” Bogut said. “That’s all it takes.”
The NCAA has already instituted a cost of attendance allowance, a stipend paid over and above the benefits of a scholarship. While the annual value of this grant varies from school to school, most begin at $2,000 and max out at $5,000 for a 12-month period. Bogut is asking for more.
As we noted back in December, Business Insider previously calculated that the average Division I player is worth $296,723 per year, with the average basketball program earning nearly $8 million in revenue annually.
A larger stipend as Bogut suggests wouldn’t come close to replicate this value, although it would give something back to the young men who take centre stage. “The NCAA are making billions of dollars, there should possibly be a revenue share model,” Bogut noted.
Regardless of your stance on the pay for play debate, one thing is clear: the current system is set up to restrict the earning ability of elite athletes. As Schooled: The Price of College Sports explains in great detail, the NCAA system is built upon old-fashioned principles that eliminate the rights available to student athletes.
Bogut’s opinion of the NCAA hones in on removing the shackles that impacted his college career, and continue with other student athletes to to this day. Yes, his view is clearly weighted in one direction but it shouldn’t be dismissed as a disgruntled athlete bias. Bogut is by any measure, one of the most qualified Australian athletes to speak on the topic. He knows the system, its strengths and weakness, and that makes his next advice the most noteworthy of all.
“I’ve always been an advocate of kids coming over here before they sign a professional contract,” Bogut commented. “At least, giving it a crack.”
While Andrew Bogut is quick to point out the NCAA’s impurities, he understands the power of college. The NCAA offers education and an opportunity to build a global basketball brand, although there is a cost to it. The restriction of your rights, is the price for the teenagers who sign up for the NCAA route.
For the majority of student athletes, this is no cost at all. But for athletes like Bogut, who are marketed as superstars by the NCAA, this restrictive covenant is a maddening exploitation of their earning power.