Elite high school athletes ‘deserve’ more than just pay: Overtime co-founder on amateur basketball

·4 min read

Sports media company Overtime, garnered a massive following by foregoing lucrative broadcast contracts in exchange for flashy highlights and short-form content produced for social media.

Now, it’s directly challenging the NCAA, with the launch of a new basketball league that promises six-figure salaries to elite high school athletes. Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Overtime co-founder and President Zack Weiner said the new league, Overtime Elite, offers an attractive alternative to a college system that "is not optimized for [a player’s] ability to have a long NBA career and be prepared."

“This is really meant for really the top 30 athletes, not just in this country, but in the world,” Weiner said. “This is a special cohort of young adults that I think deserve not just compensation, but a customized experience to get them to that promised land for them.”

The new league puts Overtime in direct competition with the NCAA for recruitment, as colleges and universities grapple with rule changes over compensation for athletes, even as they look to sports to make up for a revenue shortfall created by the pandemic.

Existing rules don’t allow for college athletes to be compensated beyond the cost of their tuition, but six states have already passed bills allowing them to cash in on their name, image, and likeness, pressuring the NCAA to act swiftly.

Overtime Elite plans to offer elite high school athletes, as young as 16-years-old, a minimum $100,000 annual salary, along with shares in the company, and the freedom to monetize their fame. Weiner said the company hired roughly 20 staff to help with basketball development, and teachers to keep athletes on track with their education and mental health. Overtime also plans to provide health and disability insurance.

“I hope the NCAA makes changes that allow our athletes to then go to the NCAA, but a lot of these athletes are already not thinking about that. They're thinking about going overseas when they're 18, or going to the G League Ignite program or training,” Weiner said. “This is really preparing them for the new world, and giving them that extra advantage as they think about that long NBA career.”

The league has already won the backing of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said he had “no fundamental opposition to paying younger people who have a unique skill.” While the NBA doesn’t currently allow athletes to enter the league until they turn 19 years old many players forego college to play internationally, or join the G League at 18.

Silver has said he is in favor of getting rid of the “one and done” rule for college athletes.

“I think it’s generally good for the community to have optionality, especially when very solid people, which appears to be the case in [Overtime Elite], are backing it and behind it,” Silver said. “We want to make sure that both on the court and off the court they're getting the right mentoring and guidance.”

But that additional optionality, has made the N.C.A.A. uneasy, at a time when schools are struggling from revenue shortfall stemming from COVID-related sports cancellations. The cancellation of last year’s Division I men’s basketball tournament resulted in a $600 million annual decline for the association, a decrease of more than 50% from the previous year.

SMU forward Yor Anei (10) blocks a shot by Boise State guard Marcus Shaver Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the NIT, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
SMU forward Yor Anei (10) blocks a shot by Boise State guard Marcus Shaver Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the NIT, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Separately, more than 30 states have either passed or introduced some form of pay for play legislation, that allows athletes to profit off of their sports success. The issue will take center stage at the Supreme Court later this month, when justices review a lower court decision that stated the NCAA blurred the “line between student-athletes and professionals” by removing caps on compensation that college football and basketball players can receive.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live, Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott called the rule changes over compensation for athletes a “long-term existential threat” for college sports.

“Depending on how those rules and those laws ultimately get written, it could undermine the economics of college sports and the ability for our schools to continue to have broad based opportunities,” he said. “We're very supportive of student athletes being able to get compensated for name, image, and likeness from third parties, as long as there's very clear guideposts and they're not being paid by the universities as employees.”

Weiner said his league will begin by signing 30 athletes, once eligible players complete the school year. He hopes to expand on its current content partnership with the NBA, to create a more direct pipeline to professional sports.

“16 years old sounds kind of young to be paid, but in any other sport— tennis, golf— or in other industries like music, this is not even a discussion. It's like, yeah, you should be compensated for what you create,” Weiner said.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita