INDIANAPOLIS — Change in college basketball was a must.
How was unknown.
But the independent commission on college basketball, led by former Secretary of State and one-time Stanford Provost Dr. Condoleeza Rice, had to deliver on a number of key issues.
The commission had to seek advice from the shareholders in the game from players to coaches to administrators to agents to the NBA to the apparel companies, which they say they did.
Nothing was going to be easy and perfect. The charge of the committee was to provide recommendations that were plausible and doable, even though some aren’t within the NCAA memberships’ ability to control. Paying players was never going to happen. Trying to get at the root cause for illicit and at times illegal behavior while also maintaining the core beliefs of being a student athlete at higher education institutions was always the goal. The commission went to great lengths to point out the overall value of a student-athlete on campus and the tens of thousands of dollars that are spent on each student during their careers.
The commission didn’t enter the debate of whether athletes should benefit from their likeness in large part because of ongoing litigation. But the window was open to address this issue once that finishes.
Deep in the report, the commission said this, “paying modest salaries to Division I basketball players will not address the particular corruption the Commission confronts, nor will providing student-athletes a modest post-graduation trust fund based on licensing of names, images and likeness.’’ The report went on to say that this would not reduce the “corrupt incentives of third parties who pay,’’ in the hopes of getting them in the future. The report continues that only a pro-model would potentially offset the corruption, but the commission was charged with revitalizing the college model.
This commission was born out of the FBI investigation into the sport and the subsequent arrests of 10 individuals, including four assistant coaches. But the need for altering rules and the way in which some are administered was always going to be the main objective.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “The NCAA appreciates the thorough review and comprehensive work by the Commission on College Basketball. The Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors will now review the independent commission’s recommendations to determine the appropriate next steps.”
The headlines are these:
- Recommend to the NBA to get rid of the one-and-done rule by allowing players to enter the draft once again out of high school. If they don’t then the NCAA would look at a model of freshmen ineligibility or “locking” up scholarship for a period of time (years). But the baseball model of once you arrive on campus and staying for three years was rejected as something that could not be applied in men’s college basketball.
- Allow players who aren’t selected in the NBA draft to return to college.
- Allow NCAA-certified agents to “engage” with student-athletes in high school, at an age or grade to be determined. No athlete would lose eligibility by meeting or contacting certified agents.
- Continue to require players to sit out upon transferring.
- Strengthen enforcement by creating independent parties to investigate and adjudicate major, complex cases. This has long been discussed at the highest level, to pull this phase away from member schools.
- Increase the penalty structure for a Level I violation and make it stern. A five-year postseason ban would certainly do that if something was enacted. So, too, would a life-time show cause ban and a head coach restriction of more than one year.
- The need for a new summer basketball model, with the help of the NBA, NBAPA and USA basketball. In the short term, that means non-scholastic basketball events would go through rigorous financial disclosure before coaches would be allowed to attend. The goal would be for the summer of 2019.
- The need for apparel companies to cooperate in helping clean up summer basketball.
- The commission recommended a Board of Governors change with at least five independent voices as part of the governing body.
- And there was one significant mention of a change in how academic fraud was handled, which without naming North Carolina, certainly could be applied to a similar case. The report stated that schools could no longer defend a fraud case or misconduct on the basis that “all students, not just athletes, were permitted to benefit,’’ from that fraud.
The most interesting aspect of the commission's report was the focus on the NBA draft rule.
The NBA and its players association changed the draft eligibility rule in 2006, stating that American players had to be 19 and one year out of high school to enter the draft. The intent of the rule, at the time, was to get NBA personnel out of high school gyms.
Prior to the rule, the 2003 NBA draft was an example of how the previous rule was actually working. LeBron James was the top NBA draft pick, coming directly out of high school. Carmelo Anthony was the No. 3 draft pick after playing one season at Syracuse and leading the Orange to the national title. One chose to go directly to the NBA while another was talented enough after one season to choose to leave for the NBA. Anthony has since given back to Syracuse, donating $3 million to build the Melo Center, which houses the men’s and women’s basketball teams on campus.
The commission recommended the NBA and its players association get rid of the current draft rule, something that is negotiated between the two parties in their collective bargaining agreement.
The commission wants to go back to when players had the option out of high school to turn professional rather than feeling “forced” to choose one season in college and sometimes not even two full semesters. The commission said in its report the enhanced improvements to the NBA’s G League, formerly known as the D League, could help give high school prospects options out of college. The NBA is raising the regular G League base salaries to $35,000 for next season after they maxed out at an average of $26,000 this past season. Syracuse committed player Darius Bazley chose the G League option for next season instead of going to play for the Orange, an example of a player who would rather turn professional than go to school during his one-year of waiting for the NBA draft.
Allowing college players to return to school, if they go undrafted is something that should be welcomed by players. This gives them a chance to fully go through the NBA draft process and not run the risk of making a major mistake. Some players will still opt to go pro in the U.S. or overseas with the hope they can make a roster.
But the players who were given poor advice and end up having a humbling draft night can come back to school and enter the draft the following season. This would also mean the coaches must hold open scholarships and be willing to take the players back, potentially putting rosters in doubt until the end of June or early July. But that trend has already occurred, with graduate transfers sometimes not making decisions known until the summer. So this shouldn’t come as a shock to the schools that may not know who will play for them the following season at the end of the current school year.
Relaxing the agent issue was a must. But the agents must be NCAA-certified. This puts the onus on the families, players and the agents. If they enter in an agreement with a non-certified agent then that’s on them. They were warned and would lose their eligibility.
Change will come slowly in some of these rules, notably the NBA draft and summer basketball. Some other aspects will be enacted, likely in time for the start of the fall semester in August.
If you were hoping to see a professional model, an abandoning of amateurism then you would be disappointed. But then you were also not dealing in reality. That was never going to occur. The majority of schools still operate in the traditional model away from the high stakes of elite, NBA-ready players.
College basketball has benefited greatly from the talent on the floor and even if players are/will be allowed to go out of high school again, the majority will likely choose college basketball. The opportunity to enhance an individual’s brand is limitless by playing on the high-profile and well-publicized stage during the season and in the NCAA tournament.
Ensuring that it is done without illicit behavior by a minority, not the majority, is still the end game. The commission’s report was a step in that direction. Now following through by all parties, not just NCAA-member schools, is a must if this is going to work.