If an NBA player never played at the collegiate level, can he ever play for an NCAA Division 1 team? Thinking about LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Garnett, etc. Surely the NCAA prevents anyone with active professional status to do so, but what about free agents or retirees?

I couldn't find much more than this NCAA page on Amateurism, from which I couldn't discern an answer to my question.

If LeBron retires tomorrow and forfeits any remaining contracts and salaries, would he be eligible to go play for a Division 1 NCAA team?


1 Answer 1


According to the NCAA, there are required steps in order to become a college athlete. One of them is registering with the Eligibility Center. In the typical situation, that’s done during grade 10 in high school. The NCAA Eligibility Center is responsible for reviewing the Amateurism requirements you linked in your post. The center uses the information gathered from the athlete to provide a certification of amateurism. Lebron would be considered a college bound student athlete, and so…

As part of the process, each college-bound student-athlete is asked to answer several questions regarding his or her sports-participation history. This is to capture a better picture of the prospect’s amateur status and to identify any potential issues that might conflict with NCAA rules. If the answers indicate a possible violation, the amateur-certification staff will work with the school to determine the facts. If the agreed-upon facts indicate a violation occurred, an eligibility penalty will be imposed based on the severity of the violations. Penalties include repayment of money, sitting out a specified number of games or, in rare cases, permanent ineligibility.

And, while there is no definitive statement suggesting he would be ineligible, given the following eligibility review criteria from the Center,

  • Contracts with a professional team.
  • Salary for participating in athletics.
  • Prize money.
  • Play with professionals.
  • Tryouts, practice or competition with a professional team.
  • Benefits from an agent or prospective agent.
  • Agreement to be represented by an agent.
  • Delayed initial full-time collegiate enrollment to participate in organized sports competition.

I would suggest that after review, he would not be eligible to play.

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