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The Commission on College Basketball made a whole host of recommendations Wednesday. From increasing penalties on cheaters, to restructuring summer basketball to player representation, the report had plenty of ideas (though it omitted the most obvious).
One of its core recommendations, however, came in an area the NCAA has zero control.
The NBA draft.
The Commission suggested that the “one-and-done” rule be scrapped in favor of letting players leave straight from high school to the pros, a rule that has been collectively bargained by the NBA and its players union.
If any change is going to happen, it’s got to happen there, and it apparently won’t be in the next couple years. The NBA is unlikely to change its draft entry requirements ahead of the 2020 draft, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The subject has been broached by both the league and the union, but how any negotiation about the issue will unfold is uncertain, according to the report.
The NCAA has little leverage on the matter as the NBA and the union ultimately will act in what they believe is in their own best interests with little mind paid to what the NCAA wants. The NCAA also has little leverage in the matter as its most heavy-handed card to play is freshman ineligibility, which would seem to be an unwieldy and ill-advised option.
Disallowing an entire class to play their freshman season would likely have unintended consequences that harm college basketball while doing little to actually solve the problem The Commission set out to fix – illicit money in the game.
On Wednesday morning, The Commission on College Basketball finally unveiled their findings on what changes need to be enacted in the sport to clean up the mess that has been created.
And while The Commission’s findings were far from perfect, there were some suggestions that they came up with that might actually have some benefit to the sport.
It just takes some time to actually dig them up.
Best I can tell, there are six talking points that we need to address stemming from today’s release.
Let’s work through all of them.
1. A BIG ‘NO COMMENT’ ON THE OLYMPIC MODEL AND CHANGES TO AMATEURISM RULES
We discussed this in depth in a column already posted on the site, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the bottom-line is this: Amateurism rules are never going to work, at least not in the current form. There is too much money on the line for too many people. The Commission opted not to address the issues involving amateurism because of pending litigation involving the NCAA’s use of an athlete’s name and likeness, but based on some of the comments that Condoleeza Rice made, it seems as if they at least realized that amateurism is a root cause of the problems they were trying to answer.
Hopefully, change will be coming at some point.
2. BEGGING (BLACKMAILING?) THE NBA AND NBPA TO CHANGE THE ONE-AND-DONE RULE
The one-and-done rule, which has come to define the sport of college basketball over the course of the last 12 years, is not a college basketball rule. It is an NBA rule, which means that the NCAA is essentially powerless to change the minimum age requirements that NBA owners wanted back in 2006, when they stopped allowing high school kids to declare for the NBA draft.
The Commission’s response?
To recommend that they combat the one-and-done rule by considering reinstating freshman ineligibility or by punishing programs that recruit one-and-done players by forcing them to lose a scholarship for each athlete that leaves school after one season.
Both of those suggestions are, of course, undeniably and unbelievably idiotic.
In the last 11 drafts, there have been an average of 10.2 freshmen that have been selected. This year, there are 17 freshmen that have declared for the draft and signed with an agent. This is in a sport with 351 teams that are all allowed to give out 13 scholarships; do that math, and there were roughly 4,500 Division I college basketball players. The Commission suggesting that it is a good idea to make those 1,100-or-so other Division I freshmen ineligible for a year because they’re mad the NBA forces 1.5 percent of the class to enroll makes me wonder why we should take any of their other suggestions seriously.
Simply put: This is an empty threat.
The other option, forcing a school to have one-and-done players count against one of their 13 scholarships for one season after they leave, is just as dumb. It’s not going to stop programs from recruiting those players, but it is going to make scholarship opportunities for other athletes disappear into thin air. For an organization that claims to have the best interest of “student-athletes” in mind, revoking scholarships in anyway is and always will be hypocritical. It should never happen.
And that’s before we get into the idea that the one-and-done players are the be-all and end-all of what’s happening here. They’re not. Brian Bowen, the central figure in the allegations made by the FBI that resulted in Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, was not a one-and-done prospect. Silvio De Sousa, who was allegedly funneled money by two different shoe companies to earn a commitment to two different programs, is not a one-and-done prospect. Nine of the 15 players that were mentioned in February’s Yahoo report as receiving money and/or loans were one-and-done players. The practice of boosters paying the best players dates back to the 50s. John Wooden’s legacy is, in part, a result of Sam Gilbert being flush with disposable income.
There is, always was and always will be a black market for the best players entering college basketball, whether those are the top 15-20 players in each class — the one-and-dones that will go straight to the pros — or the players ranked in the 20-40 range, that will spend a few years on campus, developing into the crafty veterans that have won Villanova and North Carolina the last three titles.
Shoe companies with nine-figure sponsorship deals with universities want to protect their investment. Coaches that get seven-figure raises and multi-year contract extensions when they win big want to win big. Boosters with deep pockets that love their school’s basketball team are always going to look for a way to get the best players on campus.
That’s a college basketball “problem” that’s only a “problem” because something as stupid and old-fashioned as amateurism still exists.
It’s not a one-and-done problem.
3. ALLOWING PLAYERS ACCESS TO AGENT REPRESENTATION
This is certainly a good thing.
I’ve said all along that it is silly to think that it’s a bad thing for kids that have earning potential that reaches eight or nine figures cannot have a professional advising them on what they can do. There are details that are going to need to be worked out — like, for example, how the NCAA handles the inevitable loans that agents are going to make to the players they sign — but without question this is a good thing.
4. UNDERCLASSMEN THAT AREN’T DRAFTED CAN RETURN TO SCHOOL
In theory, I like this suggestion, but in practice, I think that it is going to be somewhat more complicated than people realize.
For starters, the NBA draft is in late June. Players start the process of declaring for the draft in mid-March, when they get knocked out of whatever tournament their team ends up playing in. That means there are more than three months where they will be away from their team, their coaching staffs and, potentially, out of class while they train and prepare for becoming a professional.
The other side of it is that players getting selected late in the second round often end up coming nowhere near making that team’s roster. Many times, agents and teams will already be in touch about the possibility of a second round pick signing a training camp deal or playing with that organization’s G League team. There are people that will tell you it’s better to go undrafted than it is to be selected late in the second round because it puts the player on the market and lets them pick a destination that is the best instead of being forced to go somewhere based on getting picked.
The sentiment here is great, but I’m not sure it is as simple as it seems on paper.
5. CHANGING THE WAY SUMMER BASKETBALL WORKS
This is where things stop making sense.
With all due respect to the people that were on The Commission, I’m not sure that any of them — outside of John Thompson III — truly have a feel for how AAU and grassroots basketball truly operates. Do you think that Condoleeza Rice has ever actually been to an Under Armour Association event? Have they spoken to the organizers of events like Hoop Group’s Pitt Jam Fest or the people that run Nike’s EYBL?
“We create more opportunities than anyone within the system,” said once source that helps organize events in the summer.
What it seems like The Commission is proposing is bringing summer basketball in-house, whether that is under the umbrella of the NCAA itself, USA Basketball, the NBA or all of the above. The problem with that is that there are so many different levels to college basketball and college basketball recruiting. I played college basketball. The coaches that recruited me at the Division III level saw me when I was playing on an AAU team, but the idea that there would be any benefit for anyone if a player of my caliber and one of the top players in the country were to be at the same event is ludicrous.
Then how do you determine who plays at what events? Do you really want the NCAA running hundreds of summer tournaments that include each include many hundreds of teams? How are they going to determine which players go to which events? How are they going to determine which coaches are allowed to be at which events?
And, this may be the most important part, they aren’t going to eliminate shoe companies from getting involved at the youth level. If anything, if they take away the access coaches have to shoe company events, they’ll only be making the people that run scouting services that much richer.
Asking for transparency from these apparel companies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then will the NCAA provide transparency into what happens with the billions of dollars that they bring in?
As one source so eloquently put it, the NCAA running their own camps is “Lolololol”.
Pretty much sums it up.
6. CHANGING ENFORCEMENT
One of the proposals that The Commission made is for stricter punishments for those that go outside the rules — longer postseason bans for schools, lifetime bans for serial offenders, punishments for schools that hire offenders. I guess that would be a deterrent, but not everything that goes on here involves people associated with the NCAA or the schools.
But that is beside the point.
Because the real issue is that the NCAA cannot dig any of this stuff up themselves. The enforcement arm is toothless, and while I do think that hiring independent investigators would help, the truth is that this was all brought to light because the FBI is allowed to tap phones and send in undercover agents that can splash around thousands of dollars of government money.
What independent investigators is going to be able to do that?
There is one, simple reason why The Commission on College Basketball came into existence: The FBI stumbled onto an ex-runner for an ex-NBA agent who had just enough connections into the college basketball recruiting world that he shined a light on a corner of basketball’s black market.
The shadow that cast over the sport for the last seven months was something the NCAA needed to address, so they brought in some big names to try and affect big change in the game.
That didn’t happen, because The Commission opted to focus on the symptoms, not the disease that is rotting away at the core of college basketball: Amateurism.
“If NCAA rules do not allow them to receive that advice openly,” Condoleeza Rice, the former Secretary of State that led The Commission on College Basketball, “they will often seek it illicitly.”
She said this in regards to the access that these players have to agent representation, but if you simply replace the word “advice” with “money”, it works just the same.
For all that the NCAA said and did on Wednesday morning, for all the statements that were read and released, no one mentioned a word about how the only reason that The Commission exists in the first place is that the FBI had to do the NCAA’s investigating for them by finding a way to somehow turn their amateurism rules into a federal crime.
And in the end, that is what this was supposed to be all about.
The FBI found themselves a financial advisor named Marty Blazer that was doing some illegal things. That financial advisor flipped and led them to Christian Dawkins, a runner for disgraced ex-NBA agent Andy Miller. Dawkins knew enough people and had a big enough mouth that he was able to lead the FBI to four assistant coaches that the government says were taking bribes and a couple of Adidas executives that were allegedly paying players to attend schools that their company sponsored.
I’ve written about the absurdity of this too many times, from the FBI’s involvement proving that these players have significant monetary value to the fact that the NCAA themselves created the rules that has allowed this black market to thrive, but that’s the truth.
This commission exists because the FBI, with their wiretaps and subpoenas and undercover agents, discovered that people that profit off of athletes for a living paid money to other people to ensure that they would be able to profit off of specific athletes when those athletes become professionals.
Shocking, I know.
This is a world where shoe companies are signing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with colleges; a world where cable companies are spending more than a billion dollars annually to broadcasts games; a world where the best of the best in the NBA are getting nine figure contracts from their teams and make eight figures annually in endorsement money; a world where agents and financial advisors can get significant cuts of that contract; a world where it is relatively easy to identify who is going to make $100 million in their basketball career.
This much is undeniable: Elite basketball prospects, regardless of their age, have significant and tangible value to so many people, from the coaches that get raises and extensions when those players help them win to the agents that are looking to get their 4% cut of whatever contract they can negotiate.
These players are worth something.
So they are going to get paid, whether it is above board or under the table, because people like money and that is how economic markets work.
That’s been happening since the days of Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas. There are some that will tell you John Wooden’s legacy as a head coach is a direct result of Sam Gilbert’s deep pockets. If it happened then, when there weren’t a dozen NBA players worth the GDP of a handful of Polynesian Islands, pretending it’s not happening now is foolish.
The simple truth is this: the agents paying bribes, the shoe companies funneling money to players, the coaches and administrators that are burying their heads in the sand, everything that the FBI dug up during their investigation is simply a symptom of the disease that is plaguing college basketball: Amateurism.
And, frankly, The Commission punted on this subject.
“We respected the fact that the legal ramifications of NCAA action on name, image, and likeness are currently before the courts,” Rice said. “We don’t believe that the NCAA can legislate in this area until the legal parameters become clearer.”
That said, there is room for hope.
“It is hard for the public, and frankly for me, to understand what can be allowed within the college model … and what can’t be allowed without opening the door to professionalizing college basketball,” Rice said. “Personally, I hope that there will be more room in the college model today for this kind of benefit to students without endangering the college model itself.”
That money isn’t going away.
You can’t put Pandora back in her box.
So barring a change to what we think of as “the college model”, none of the recommendations that The Commission set forth will do much of anything to affect change.
“The crisis in college basketball is first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”
This is how, on Wednesday morning, Rice opened her statement announcing The Commission’s findings and recommendations for ways that the NCAA can cure what ails it.
She said that talking to the people involved in the NCAA was “like watching a circular firing squad,” as people pointed fingers and spread blame on everyone except themselves.
“Ultimately the fault was always that of someone else,” she said. “It is time for coaches, athletic directors, University Presidents, Boards of Trustees, the NCAA leadership and staff, apparel companies, agents, pre-collegiate coaches – and yes -– parents and athletes — to accept their culpability in getting us to where we are today.”
She then proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes and 3,342 words explaining how the burden to solve the problems the NCAA is dealing with falls on everyone from the NBA and the NBPA eliminating the one-and-done rule to the shoe companies that must provide financial transparency to the NCAA to the independent investigators that the association is going to have to hire because they have proven, over and over again, to be utterly incapable of policing themselves.
Oh, the irony.
NEW YORK (AP) — The commission proposing reforms to college basketball wants 18-year-olds to be eligible again for the NBA draft, and the NBA Players Association would make that deal today.
Change will take longer than that.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver senses the league’s age limit isn’t working. Requiring U.S. players to be 19 years old and one year removed from high school has sent many of them to a year of college they don’t want, and delayed the full-time basketball instruction pro teams prefer.
But whether the league would agree to allow players to come straight from high school again, or want them to wait two years before becoming draft eligible, has been a sticking point practically since the age limited was enacted in 2005 and remains unclear now. Before the age limit was in place, some stars flourished straight from high school including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
It once loomed as the biggest fight during the 2011 negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. The league had signaled its desire to raise the age limit to 20, and the union wasn’t going to agree to that. But the league shifted its goals toward extracting financial concessions from the players, and the age limit moved to the back burner and has stayed there.
Now could be the time to finally move it forward. Change has to be bargained by the NBA and NBPA, but they don’t need to wait for the next CBA to do it. And with nearly every team having its own G League affiliate, there is a legitimate minor league where 18-year-olds could play without having to do it on campus.
WHY IT COULD WORK: Because the timing may be right. With now 27 teams, two-way contracts allowing easier paths to the NBA and a fresh increase in salary, the G League has never been closer to being an option on par with college. As shown recently when high school All-American Darius Bazley chose the G League over his commitment to play at Syracuse, even top players may consider it.
WHY IT WOULDN’T WORK: Ending the age limit doesn’t necessarily end one-and-done. Players who know they aren’t going to make an NBA roster out of high school might prefer a tuition-paid year of being the big man on campus at Duke or Kentucky over a year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Fort Wayne, Indiana, or some other G League city.
WHY IT’S KEY TO THE SCANDAL: The report cries out for help with one-and-done, noting that “only the NBA and the NBPA can change this rule.” The commission says it may have to recommend ending freshman eligibility or mandating that all scholarships be for three or four years if the age limit can’t be ended in 2018.
Silver may agree it’s time for change, but it will come on the NBA and NBPA’s timetable.
“We’re not by any means rushing through this,” he said during February’s All-Star break. “I think this is a case where, actually, outside of the cycle of collective bargaining, we can spend more time on it with the Players Association, talking to the individual players, talking to the executive board and really trying to understand the pros and cons of potentially moving the age limit.”
Apparel companies are heavily involved in elite-level youth basketball, with Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all running their own circuits. The shoe companies also have lucrative sponsorship deals with schools and coaches worth millions of dollars.
When a federal investigation revealed some of the shoe money was being funneled to recruits to influence their choice of schools, the NCAA’s hand was forced: It had to deal with the worst-kept secret in college basketball.
As part of its recommendations to clean up corruption, the Commission on College Basketball called on the boards of apparel companies Wednesday to have greater financial transparency and accountability in their investments in “non-scholastic basketball.”
“The apparel companies that actively sponsor non-scholastic basketball are public companies,” the report said. “It appears, however, that they do not have effective controls in place in their spending in non-scholastic basketball.”
A federal investigation in September revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and bribes, leading to the arrests of 10 people. Among them were two former Adidas executives, including one who was accused of agreeing to funnel $40,000 through a coach to the father of former North Carolina State player Dennis Smith Jr.
The independent commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, released a 60-page report on Wednesday, asking for the apparel companies’ help in corralling the corruption.
The commission said it expects the companies will insist their employees provide detailed accountability about expenditures in non-scholastic basketball and cooperate with new NCAA rules out of concern how their money is being spent.
WHY IT COULD WORK: If the NCAA can get the shoe companies to agree, it would allow the organization to have a better handle on benefits future college players are receiving and possibly dissuade corruption.
WHY IT WOULDN’T WORK: The shoe companies may not want to cooperate, leaving the NCAA still in the dark.
WHY IT’S KEY TO THE SCANDAL: The benefits elite youth players receive from shoe companies has always been a blind spot for the NCAA. Getting a glimpse of the expenditures and where those come from could possibly help it prevent future pay-to-play scenarios.