Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Image via PGA Tour
Sometimes, there is a story that comes from a story. Last week, it was announced that former NBA player J.R. Smith, who enrolled at North Carolina A&T, intends to join the men’s golf team if he gets cleared by the NCAA. Smith’s clock to compete in college never started because he went straight to the NBA after high school. Most athletes get five years to complete four years of eligibility.
According to NCAA rules, “an individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team in that sport.” (Sorry Ohio State fans who were hoping to see a retired Lebron James suiting up in an Ohio State men’s basketball uniform.) However, NCAA rules do not ban a former pro athlete from taking part in a different sport. There has been a history of athletes in other sports playing professionally before returning to college to play a different sport. Most notably is Florida State Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke. Weinke spent six years in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system before enrolling at Florida State University and leading them to the 1999 national championship in football.
However, this could open avenues for retired NBA players who skipped college before turning pro and play in collegiate sports. There have been plenty of NBA stars who skipped college when they turned pro. For example, Lakers stars Lebron James and Dwight Howard, and last year’s Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball all skipped college to go play professional basketball. Could you imagine Lebron James after he retires deciding that he wants to pursue a swimming or golf career at a university? The internet would explode! While one professional cannot go to college and play in that same sport, J.R. Smith’s situation opens up Pandora’s box.