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NCAA president Mark Emmert: The Olympic model is ‘deserving of serious consideration’

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NEW YORK (AP) — NCAA President Mark Emmert is hopeful the scandal roiling college basketball will lead to major rule changes, but schools paying players is likely a nonstarter.

In a 45-minute phone interview Friday with The Associated Press, Emmert said he expects a commission to reform college basketball to put forth proposals to modernize NCAA rules on player-agent relationships, devise new ways to handle high-profile enforcement cases and address the NBAs one-and-done rule. The commission, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is on track to give its recommendations to NCAA leadership when the Division I Board of Directors meets in April 24-25.

Emmert says he does not think the NCAA is in crisis and that the “vast majority of what’s going on inside” the associations is working “incredibly well.”

“Yes, we’ve got these very serious issues which require serious change and they erode people’s belief in the integrity of all college sports,” Emmert said. “That’s a very serious problem and that’s got to be addressed and we’re doing that right now and I’m really optimistic that before basketball season next year we’re going to have really meaningful change that makes this circumstance, if not completely go away, dramatically better than the problems that exist today.

“That’s not the same as saying that collegiate sports is in crisis.”

A federal investigation has alleged hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks being funneled to influence recruits, an FBI probe that many fans believe reveals just a tiny slice of potential corruption in college sports.

In September, the Justice Department arrested 10 people, including four assistant coaches from Arizona, Southern California, Auburn and Oklahoma State. Payments of up to $150,000, supplied by Adidas, were promised to at least three top high school recruits to attend two schools sponsored by the shoe company, according to federal prosecutors.

Emmert said NCAA enforcement cannot investigate anything directly related to the case without the approval of prosecutors.

“It can be frustrating, of course, but that is the way we go about that,” Emmert said.

He added the NCAA is working with schools to provide clarity on possible violations related to news reports about the case.

Last week, by Yahoo Sports said it obtained documents showing dozens of prominent players, coaches and schools could be involved in breaking NCAA rules. Current Michigan State star Miles Bridges was cleared by the NCAA after a line item said an agent had given benefits to his mother.

The relationship between agents and players is one of four major components of the Rice commission’s work.

College hockey and baseball players can have business relationships with agents in high school without risking eligibility because professional leagues draft those players out of high school. Emmert said those rules might be used to guide college basketball reform.

“How can a family and a player get the kind of advice, professional advice from reputable, responsible advisers and agents that they can use to make intelligent decisions for themselves and their families?” Emmert said. “Those are the questions that the commission is looking into as well. I and many others have long recognized that this relationship just isn’t functional right now. We’ve got to make it more appropriate to today’s environment.”

More access to agents does not mean creating an open market for college athletes.

“I haven’t heard any universities say that they want to change amateurism to move into a model where student athletes are paid by universities and universities are negotiating with agents for their relationships with a school,” Emmert said. “I would be surprised if the commission came forward with that kind of recommendation.”

Emmert said allowing athletes to earn money for things such as endorsements from outside sources is worthy of consideration.

“There’s a lot of discussion about the Olympic model and think it’s well deserving of serious consideration inside the context of college sports,” he said.

Emmert said that the NCAA cannot change the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule, which prohibits players from being drafted until they are 19 or two years removed from high school.

“That relationship is the NBA and players’ association to change,” he said. “But the commission is looking at what can and should be done to change that relationship. You do have significant issues around young men who want to become professional athletes. They may or may not want to go to college in order to do that and they need to have more and better options. The question the commission’s looking how can we, the NCAA, with the control over our part of that equation have some impact on that.”

The commission is also exploring whether the NCAA, USA Basketball or the NBA can become more involved in AAU basketball, the youth leagues unaffiliated to high schools that can play an influential role in recruiting but lie outside NCAA policing.

Emmert said the NCAA’s enforcement model, which relies upon cooperation between the schools and NCAA staff, works in most cases but as stakes have risen, high-profile cases have become more contentious.

“We’ve asked the commission to bring forward a recommendation saying we need a different approach for these 5 or 10 percent of cases, at the most, that are very high-profile where people are now in a much more adversarial position than they are when they are dealing with other issues. And how can that be done because the current model of a cooperative investigation and engagement breaks down very quickly. We’re trying very hard to get the commission to bring forth recommendations on that, too,” Emmert said.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

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

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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.