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Subpoenas, college basketball commissions prove NCAA is further than ever from the end of amateurism

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I thought that this would finally be the breaking point, the moment that changed everything.

The allegations detailed in the FBI complaints that were unveiled on September 26th were indisputable proof that college basketball players had massive value on the open market. If building a business relationship with an athlete that had the potential to sell millions of sneakers and generate a fortune in agent fees wasn’t enough for you to believe it, direct evidence of an apparel company funneling six figure payouts to players that were anything-but a lock to be one-and-dones in an effort to protect their biggest brands – and biggest investments – at the collegiate level should have been.

I thought that this would be the tipping point, the watershed moment that eliminated the term ‘amateurism’ from the NCAA’s rulebook.

This would be what led college athletics to adopt the Olympic model, I thought.

The truth is that we couldn’t be further away from seeing that change happen.

On Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that he would be forming a Commission on College Basketball, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, to look into the corruption this FBI investigation exposed. The goal of the commission is to examine the relationship that shoes companies, agents/advisors and AAU programs have with college programs, coaching staffs and players; the status of the relationship between the NCAA and the NBA; and to evaluate whether the rules as written, which are so routinely broken and borderline unenforceable by the NCAA, need to be changed.

That might be good news if the release announcing the commission, which includes, at most, two former coaches that could have an actual understanding of how cheating in college basketball happens, didn’t include language like, “The culture of silence in college basketball enables bad actors, and we need them out of the game;” or, “We must take decisive action. This is not a time for half-measures or incremental change;” or, “ensure exploitation and corruption cannot hide in college sports.”

This commission isn’t being formed because the NCAA truly wants to evaluate whether or not going to the Olympic Model is something that would actually work. This commission is precisely the kind of committee that gets formed by multi-billion dollar corporations when they want to pretend like they’re taking a problem seriously.

Emmert’s statement might as well have read, “we take this issue so seriously that we’re forming a committee with a bunch of out-of-touch administrators that won’t issue any findings for six months, enough time to, hopefully, allow the speed of the 2017 news cycle will to erase this story from your memory FaceBook and Twitter feeds because your faux-trage will be focused somewhere else by then.”

The NCAA has absolutely no incentive to consider anything other than enforcing the status quo in regards to amateurism.

The way the current rules are written, they are the ones that make all the profits when it comes to advertising and sponsorships. Under Armour just invested $280 million into an apparel deal with UCLA. Louisville and Adidas have an $160 million deal. If Under Armour could pay, say, Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball 1 percent of that figure to wear and promote their brand, isn’t that something that would be more appealing than spending roughly $19 million a year to outfit an entire athletic department?

Would Adidas – who was caught by the FBI investing $100,000 into what amounted to an under-the-table sponsorship of Brian Bowen and attempting to invest another $150,000 into a 2018 prospect assumed to be Nassir Little to get him to go to an Adidas school – rather spend a couple of million on reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson or send 98 percent of their money straight to Rick Pitino?

It works on a smaller scale as well. Would a car dealership rather spend their advertising dollars promoting their product with in-stadium advertisements or by paying the all-american running back or point guard directly to be on billboards, sign autographs in the lobby and drive around town in a new Dodge Challenger, telling anyone that will listen they got a great deal on it from Bob’s Discount Motors?

I don’t know the answer to that. The schools probably do, but if they don’t I’m guessing they don’t want to find out. They don’t want to risk that revenue stream drying up.

And if the schools don’t want to make those changes, the NCAA is never going to make those changes. Because the NCAA is made up of those universities and colleges.

They’re not going to implement a rule that hurts themselves.

And they’re certainly not going to change that rule when the FBI has become their enforcement arm.

On Wednesday, The Oklahoman reported that Oklahoma State had received a subpoena from a grand jury in New York requesting any documents or communications from the last three years that show “actual or potential NCAA rules violations.” An attorney that has worked for a prosecutor and as a defender in the state of New York told NBC Sports that it is “unlikely” Oklahoma State was the only school to receive a subpoena of this nature.

Couple that nugget with this: One of the charges levied at the four assistant coaches arrested last month was conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Those charges were leveled because the coaches, in “concealing bribe payments to prospective and current student-athletes” caused their schools to “provide athletic scholarship to student-athletes who, in truth and in fact, were ineligible to compete as a result of the bribe payments.”

Think about that for a second.

Knowingly making a college athlete ineligible is now a federal crime.

I repeat: The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York and the FBI went and made breaking NCAA rules a federal crime.

The reason cheating was so rampant and so open in college basketball was because the NCAA’s enforcement arm was toothless. They can’t file subpoenas. They can’t wiretap phones. They don’t go undercover or have the ability to turn criminal financial advisors into snitches with the threat of SEC violations. Hell, NCAA officials lost their jobs over the investigation into Miami and Nevin Shapiro in part because they sat in on a bankruptcy proceeding they were not allowed to have access to.

The only threat the NCAA really has in a case like this is to say, “If you lie to us and we catch you, you’re banned.”

That threat might hold some weight if the NCAA could actually catch people.

They can’t.

But the FBI, quite clearly, can.

And now that they’re involved, the NCAA has no reason to change their stance on amateurism.

By making it a federal crime to break NCAA rules, the most powerful prosecutor in the United States of America guaranteed that college athletes will never get paid their worth.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.