NCPA's Ramogi Huma says NCAA Commission dodged main issue: “The root cause of the F.B.I. investigation are the N.C.A.A. rules limiting compensation for players. And none of the recommendations speak to them — none of them.”
Condoleezza Rice, a former secretary of state, unveiled her report on college basketball reforms on Wednesday.CreditCreditDarron Cummings/Associated Press
By Marc Tracy April 25, 2018
INDIANAPOLIS — N.C.A.A. leaders endorsed a series of broad recommendations they received Wednesday from a commission chaired by the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in the latest attempt to clean up men’s college basketball and fix a system mired with corruption.
But while the proposed changes would alter the texture of the sport, they stopped well short of challenging the longtime requirement that the college athletes remain amateurs, uncompensated beyond a scholarship and a stipend for their talents and efforts.
“The levels of corruption and deception are now at a point that they threaten the very survival of the college game as we know it,” Ms. Rice’s commission stated in a report she presented to two boards of the N.C.A.A.
Mark Emmert, the president of the N.C.A.A., asked Ms. Rice to lead the commission last fall after federal prosecutors filed bribery and fraud charges against 10 people connected with men’s college basketball. The defendants include assistant coaches, a shoe company executive and two associates who were implicated in schemes to funnel money to prospects and their families in exchange for commitments to attend certain colleges.
Many of the proposed changes could become a part of the N.C.A.A. legislative code in August. Mr. Emmert, who is relying on Ms. Rice’s stature to boost the credibility of the N.C.A.A., has said he is aiming for results “by tip-off 2018.”
The commission proposed allowing regulated contact between athletes and agents to give players access to more information about their prospects as professionals. It recommended overhauling summer basketball, requiring the shoe and apparel companies that run the showcase events to assume far more “transparency and accountability.” It even raised the possibility of eliminating the companies from the crucial July evaluation period, when coaches attend the events to scout recruits. It also noted the widespread public support for plans to pay players.
The commission also recommended eliminating the so-called one-and-done rule, which requires players to be 19 years old or a year removed from high school to be eligible for the N.B.A. draft, though that rule will not change without the N.B.A. and the National Basketball Players Association changing it.
“Everybody that we’ve talked to, at every school, every place I’ve been, agrees that action has to be taken,” Mr. Emmert said on Wednesday.
“There’s no debate about whether the status quo is acceptable,” he added. “Nobody finds it acceptable.”
In an interview at N.C.A.A. headquarters here, Ms. Rice described the proposals as essential to rescuing the most popular college sport other than football and the one that provides the vast majority of the N.C.A.A.’s revenue.
“We believe this is an opportunity to put the college back in college basketball,” she said.
But Ramogi Huma, the president of the College Athletes Players Association, an advocate for more rights for athletes, said the commission dodged the main issues.
“The root cause of the F.B.I. investigation are the N.C.A.A. rules limiting — actually, prohibiting — compensation for players,” he said. “And none of the recommendations speak to them — none of them.”
The last time a scandal of this nature and scope hit college basketball may have been in the early 1950s, when revelations of point shaving by several top teams knocked the sport on its back.
The federal charges, which were followed by indictments, introduced the risk of criminal prosecution into a well-known part of college basketball. The allegations made a mockery of N.C.A.A. amateurism rules and painted a black mark on several of the most prominent basketball programs. Documents obtained by Yahoo Sports in February seemed to implicate players at a dozen other blue-chip programs.
Eliminating one-and-done would produce a noticeable difference in how the sport has operated for more than a decade. The most talented players play only their freshman season, attend college for less than a year and mainly congregate at a few programs, notably Kentucky and Duke. The commission said that if the N.B.A. and its players’ union did not change the rule, it would reconvene to consider unilateral alternatives such as freshman ineligibility.
In a joint statement, the N.B.A. and the players’ union pledged only to continue assessing the rules, but no changes are expected before the 2020 draft.
Mark Emmert, the president of the N.C.A.A., says college basketball is broken and needs substantive change.CreditDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press
The commission, which included former players (Grant Hill, David Robinson), former coaches, university presidents, the heads of the Association of American Universities and U.S.A. Basketball, and others, called on the N.C.A.A. to establish a new system for summer basketball, so central to the recruitment process, that could diminish the influence of the three main apparel companies. Adidas, Nike and Under Armour sponsor not only summer basketball but also most of the college teams that high school prospects aspire to play for.
Specifically, the commission envisioned allowing coaches as soon as next year to attend only N.C.A.A.-administered regional events during the crucial July evaluation period. It was not clear what role the three main sneaker companies would or would not have at those events. Each of them currently sponsors gigantic events in July that are unmissable for top prospects and coaches.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have said that an Adidas executive and several others with ties to the sneaker giant were central to schemes to bribe players’ families and college basketball coaches to coax top prospects to commit to colleges that Adidas sponsored, like Louisville, Miami and Kansas, and later sign with Adidas. Narratives outlined by prosecutors strongly suggest that similar behavior is conducted in the name of Adidas’s rivals.
“The corruption we observed in college basketball has its roots in youth basketball,” Ms. Rice said in her statement.
In a statement, Adidas said it “welcomes the commission’s recommendations and will continue to work with the N.C.A.A. and other stakeholders in a collaborative and constructive manner.”
The commission suggested allowing players to have limited contact with agents, starting in high school, to help make decisions about the N.B.A. And it proposed permitting players who declare for the N.B.A. draft but are not selected to return to college. It also recommended increasing the severity of penalties for teams and coaches who violate rules, to five-year postseason bans for teams and lifetime suspensions for coaches. In addition, it said people outside the organization should be involved with the penalties process and serve on the N.C.A.A.’s board.
And yet throughout the report the commission performed a delicate dance — acknowledging that the very corruption it sought to eliminate arose in part because players generate substantial sums for high school teams, agents, money managers, college teams, coaches and shoe companies but can’t take money beyond a scholarship and related costs of attending school.
“Millions of dollars are now generated by television contracts and apparel sponsorship for the N.C.A.A., universities and coaches,” the report said. “The financial stake in success has grown exponentially; and thus, there is an arms race to recruit the best talent — and if you are a coach — to keep your job.”
In fact, many of the commissioners endorsed providing athletes with a cut of the revenue they helped generate, according to Ms. Rice.
“Most commissioners believe that the rules on name, image and likeness should be taken up as soon as the legal framework is established,” she said in her statement.
Ms. Rice went further in an interview: “I’ll speak for myself personally,” she said of compensating athletes further. “I think there’s room for something.”
She said the commission declined to address this topic because of pending litigation. Plaintiffs in the so-called Jenkins case want a federal court to strike down the N.C.A.A. ban on player compensation on antitrust grounds.
A lawyer representing the Jenkins plaintiffs, Jeffrey Kessler, said that his case concerned a different nuance.
“It looked to me like there was a political decision made not to recommend what she seemed to indicate a majority of the members believed,” Mr. Kessler said of Ms. Rice.
Ms. Rice’s remarks, along with things Mr. Emmert has said and sentiments athletic directors have expressed recently, have lent momentum to the sense that there will be more payments to players, of some kind, in the not-too-distant future.
“There is an embarrassment of riches,” said Dan Beebe, a former commissioner of the Ohio Valley and Big 12 Conferences, “and a lot of the profiteers are administrators and coaches, and I think it’s become unsustainable to have that and not have those producing the revenue earn some money.”
Seasoned observers dismissed both the notion that the proposals would solve all of college basketball’s problems and the notion they would accomplish essentially nothing.
Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane’s sports law program, said allowing contact with agents was provocative. “That was completely taboo for a very, very long time,” he said, adding that any major changes to N.C.A.A. rules would take time. “It’s a big ship to move.”