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Saturday Sports: Start-Up League Eyes NCAA's Turf, Unlikely Pro Teams' Hot Streak

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You know what time it is? Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NCAA might soon not be the only college game in town. An important event in women's hockey has been canceled again. And some unlikely teams catch fire.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Scott.

SIMON: Tom.

GOLDMAN: Yes, Scott.

SIMON: Could, could, could there be rival leagues...

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...To the NCAA to compete for young athletes who also, you know, want to get an education?

GOLDMAN: Not only could, but are. There's a glut right now of men's basketball leagues for the best college-aged and pre-college-aged players, leagues that promise something the NCAA doesn't - money, big money, six-figure salaries. Like the Professional Collegiate League, launching later this week - I'm sorry, later this year - this week, it announced a new media rights deal. Overtime Elite, a league for high schoolers - the parent company Overtime this week revealed it's raised $80 million from investors like Jeff Bezos and Drake.

And then the G League, the NBA's established minor league, has added a team called Ignite for young prospects. Yesterday, one of the nation's top high school players announced he's signing with Ignite and bypassing college. So yeah, there are these alternate routes, and more players are taking them not just for the money, but the professional basketball preparation they're getting.

SIMON: Yeah. Is the NCAA shaking like a leaf?

GOLDMAN: I reached out to ask, didn't hear back. In reality, if all these leagues are successful, we're talking about them employing around 140 players total. And there are an estimated 4,300 Division I scholarship men's basketball players. So certainly this isn't putting the NCAA at a business. It's potentially, you know, taking away a number of top players they won't be able to showcase. And the presence of these leagues might ratchet up the pressure on the NCAA to loosen its very strict rules on amateurism. As you know, it's already feeling the pressure to do that from many different directions.

SIMON: Women's hockey - Hockey Canada and Nova Scotia have announced they're canceling the Women's World Championship for the second year in a row because a variety of COVID cases. The athletes are mad because the men's game, of course, is going on.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. That's why they're mad. A couple of prominent men's tournaments have gone on. One was moved due to the pandemic and still is scheduled to happen. A top player for the women, Kendall Coyne Schofield - she helped the U.S. win a gold medal for the - at the 2018 Winter Olympics - she wonders why there contingency plans for the Women's World Championships. And she was quoted as saying, "I'm tired of saying this, but even more exhausted from feeling it. Women's hockey once again deserves more and better."

SIMON: I want to note a couple of winning streak from places we haven't heard about him in recent years. The New York Knicks are on a streak, and the Oakland A's won last night 3-1 over the Orioles - 12 wins in a row. That's their best record since Brad Pitt was the general manager. Sorry, I had to work that in.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Wait a minute. Did you say the New York Knicks?

SIMON: Yes, I said the New York Knicks. They're in basketball, though.

GOLDMAN: OK - for years and embarrassment in the NBA's biggest market and now tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference on an eight-game winning streak, the longest current win streak in the NBA.

SIMON: And LeBron James knows their name. He mentions them.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) He mentioned them. And every Knicks fan is going crazy because they want LeBron, you know, to sign with the Knicks when he's 50 and has his next free agent - he's a free agent the next time. And quickly, the A's - 12 straight after losing their first six of the season, and they really lost. Opponents outscored them by a total of 50-13, but they turned it around. They're riding a wave, the longest win streak for the team in nearly 20 years.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.