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.