The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
College hoops ‘reform’ sounds like same ol’ scene
The commission came in response to the headlines. And the headlines were shocking. Actually, the headlines screamed what everyone who follows college basketball already knew.
The college game is corrupt. The college system of amateurism is a sham.
Make no mistake. Assigned a formal name with the gravitas of the Warren Commission, the Commission on College Basketball came in response to those September headlines. The FBI had gotten involved, and 10 men, including four assistant coaches, were indicted on widespread fraud and corruption charges. Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino would be fired after the school was implicated in the scandal.
The Feds had stuck their powerful noses where the NCAA either was too toothless or too spineless to, and those who govern the multibillion-dollar college athletic industry were left humiliated.
Insisting that college basketball needs to make substantive changes, quick and robust, NCAA president Mark Emmert formed the 12-member, blue-ribbon commission chaired by Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State under president George W. Bush.
On Wednesday, a halfyear later, to considerable fanfare, a news conference to unveil a 60-page report was held in Indianapolis. This was the chance to send a powerful blow to the sham of amateurism before the Feds go home and leave college athletics to the impossible job of policing itself.
“We need to put the college back in college basketball,” Rice said. “Our focus has been to strengthen the collegiate model — not to move toward one that brings aspects of professionalism into the game.”
From that signature quote, no matter how noble the intentions, it was clear that college athletics is in no great rush at getting to its fundamental problem. From that moment, no matter how many sabers were rattled, it was clear there was no great rush to get financial recompense into the hands of those who deserve it:
The most marketable athletes.
In fact, so staunchly defending the principles of “amateurism” on Wednesday, you have to wonder how badly they want it at all?
Rice is an effective speaker and creditable leader. When she starts calling for the end of the NBA oneand-done rule, about life-
time bans for violators, imploring for more transparency from sneaker and apparel giants — well, so much of it resonates.
And when you get words like “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” you admire the report’s poetry. Yes, there are things to like about the commission’s recommendations.
Allowing underclassmen to return to college play if they declare and go undrafted is a good idea. Coaches want to control their roster every day of the year. Yet the web of testing the waters without an agent and returning before a deadline or going into the draft and not getting picked and being banned, good grief.
As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN pointed out, this is the one thing in the report NBA executives did like, because even the G League can’t absorb so many delusional non-prospects. Let the undrafted kid back in college instead of making him play in Liechtenstein, and no, he shouldn’t get to be a free agent per NBA current rules. He should go back in the next year’s draft.
Allowing certified player agents to talk to high school players — currently prohibited — to give them an accurate portrayal of their NBA possibilities before committing to college also is a good idea. You’d be shocked at how delusional some kids are about their abilities. And if put in the advisory hands of scumbags, well, you know the rest of that story. Thus, the NCAA — beyond the NBA — must get into the agent-certifying business.
The commission report calls for a number of stiffer penalties for violations, including a five-year postseason ban for schools and a lifetime ban for coaches. It sounds robust. The impressive part for me is the call for independent entities to investigate and resolve serious violations. Yet it will be fascinating to see whether powerful schools will surrender the longheld NCAA process of “peer” rulings. Objective, moral people can be dangerous. Just saying.
The truth is a lot of tough penalties are already on the books and the NCAA often has been reluctant to bring down the hammer. March Madness is a multibillion-dollar industry. You think CBS wants its biggest school brands on the sidelines?
Enforcing the most robust penalties? I’ll believe it when I see it. Color my eye jaundiced.
The same goes for the recommendation that the NCAA, with the help of USA Basketball and the NBA, should run its own summer tournaments for the purpose of recruiting. And that sneaker giants, as public companies, have more financial transparency. Adidas, Nike and Under Armour fund most of the summer AAU events. They also fund college athletic programs, from Kentucky to Kansas to UConn, with frightening amount of money. So who’s going to tell the great source of revenue in the autumn, winter and fall to take a hike in the summer?
Color my eye jaundiced again.
The report seems fixated that one-and-done players are the overwhelming problem. The commission wants to allow players to go to the NBA immediately out of high school. The NBA said Wednesday it is willing to re-examine its process. The NBA, according to reports, wouldn’t change the rule before 2020. If there’s no movement, the commission threatens to recommend freshmen be banned from playing or a scholarship be frozen for three years.
Let’s be honest. Potential one-and-done players do add interest to the early season. And for the most part, teams loaded with those players have made much less noise in March. Do I think the NBA should abandon the rule? Yes. But it’s also incredibly naive and laughably inaccurate to assert that an NBA rule in place only since 2006 caused century-old corruption in college basketball.
I remain a staunch believer in some type of Olympic model for college athletes. Allow them to cash in on their name. This would help alleviate the financial burden, especially on smaller schools, of directly paying non-revenue sports athletes, men and women equally.
Allowing the biggest names to sign deals will cut into some sneaker money for schools. Yet it not only is morally fair to put a slice of the March Madness billions into the hands of those who deserve it most, it will help keep it out of the hands of cheats who don’t.
The report does allow for a further look at athletes marketing their name or image, but said it could not act until the courts resolve pending legal cases. That sounds OK on paper, but with all the talk of preserving amateurism Wednesday, this certainly was no fight the Commission of Great Gravitas sounded willing to push. Good intentions and some good rules didn’t bring ultimate fairness.