LeBron James takes on the NCAA in upcoming documentary


One of the world’s biggest athletes just got done carrying his team into the NBA finals for his eighth (8!) straight finals appearance against one of the most dominant teams in the long history of the NBA. With the season at an end, LeBron James is not done with squaring off against an overwhelming opponent. The all-powerful NCAA.

James and his production company, SpringHill Entertainment, have partnered with HBO to produce a documentary that will focus on the NCAA and its billion dollar dilemma. Student Athlete is set to take a deep dive into the surreptitious world of college programs and the volcanic build up of whether or not athletes should receive a piece of the pie.

The issue is one that’s been around for some time, but has more recently become a focal point with the advances in technology and ability to reach social media stardom. When an athlete commits to a school, they give up the opportunity to use any bit of recognition to earn some extra cash. Last year, University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye was told to “quit YouTube” by the NCAA, largely in part because he had a large following that generated ad revenue. The NCCA’s rules state that athletes cannot profit off their own likeness.

UCF Kicker Donald De La Haye Ruled Ineligible To Take YouTube Revenue | SI Wire | Sports Illustrated

Meanwhile, as is the trend since its inception, sports has grown. Television networks bid millions of dollars to show SEC football games or ACC basketball games. The College Football Playoffs alone are a multi-million dollar affair with hours and hours of dedicated coverage and radically overpriced tickets. Money gets split between the schools and the NCAA, but the athletes themselves don’t see their bank accounts change.

It’s a divisive debate: some argue that the price of a free education is enough and that should be the end of it. The counter to that is that colleges do not require non-athletic scholarship students to abandon potential routes of income while in school. If athletes are paid, how much should they get? What about the sports that don’t bring in as much money, or the schools that don’t have the prestige of a larger school like Alabama or UNC? Why can’t an athlete make money outside of the school and sport on social media or autograph signings?

And then there’s the high-tier athletes who ARE getting paid by the school in under the table, back alley dealings. Deandre Ayton, the likely number one overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft, reportedly received $100,000 to commit to the University of Arizona, where he played one season. SB Nation released a damning piece about the hypocrisy between the NCAA’s rules and what many athletes face from representatives or agents trying to bring top talent to a specific school.

Student Athlete isn’t going to solve the problem, but it will continue the conversation. James isn’t shy about being outspoken on matters beyond his on-court duties, and when he talks, people listen. Set to explore the lives of three college athletes and provide an in-depth look into their lives with a major college program. It’s easy to forget, with all his successes in fifteen NBA seasons, that James was one of those athletes who accepted a gift from an agent which cost James his college eligibility. At the time, the NBA still allowed high school athletes to enter the draft, but has since changed the restriction.

The NCAA has a problem with many facets, and how they proceed to handle the rising onslaught of both player payment and player bribes is going to set a dynamic precedent. If they don’t figure out a way to pay athletes or allow them to make money on their own, the slick handed agents and no-name university workers will continue to drop bags of money at the feet of upper-level talent who will bring in a hefty return on investment. What James’s documentary shows is the effect it has on the athletes themselves, who are truly just kids forced into a moral and ethical dilemma. The kids are the future, for the right price.

Student Athlete comes to HBO on October 2nd.


Nick Hershey