NCAA begins work of implementing its complex basketball reforms
By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most difficult part of the NCAA’s attempt to clean up college basketball begins now.
Hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball’s sweeping recommendations for reforming a sport weighed down by corruption, NCAA leaders set in motion the process for turning those ideas into reality.
The NCAA Board of Governors, a group of 16 university presidents and the association’s highest ranking body, unanimously endorsed all the commission’s recommendations Wednesday. Now it’s up to various subcommittees, working groups and college administrators to dig into a mountain of work over the next three months as the NCAA attempts to change NBA draft rules, create a new enforcement body, toughen penalties for rules violations, revamp summer recruiting and certify agents. All while trying to get buy-in from organizations that might not be motivated to help.
“It’s going to be a challenge to say the least,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This is a pace of decision making that the association’s really never done on this kind of scale before.”
The Division I Council, comprised mostly of athletic directors and headed by Miami AD Blake James, has the job of turning the recommendations into rules. That requires feedback from schools, then council votes with some conference votes counting more heavily than others. Each proposal then goes to the Board of Directors, where a majority vote is needed to send it to the Board of Governors for final approval.
It’s a winding path — crossing 351 Division I schools with varied priorities and concerns — and requiring consensus building and compromise for measures to pass. NCAA rule changes can sometimes take a full calendar year to sort out.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t let the good fall victim to the perfect here,” Emmert said. “Nobody believes we’re going to get everything perfect the first time through.”
The independent commission Rice led released a much-anticipated and detailed 60-page report , seven months after the group was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.
“They believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP of commission members in an interview before addressing NCAA leaders. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong. We had to be bold in our recommendations.”
The proposals were wide-ranging, falling mostly into five categories: NBA draft rules, specifically the league’s 19-year-old age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done college players; non-scholastic basketball such as AAU leagues and summer recruiting events; the relationship between players and agents; relationships with apparel companies; and NCAA enforcement.
It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, though the NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2017 in its most recent financial disclosures.
The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding hoops “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.
It also defended the NCAA’s amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.
“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.
The commission did leave open the possibility that college athletes could earn money off their names, images and likenesses , but decided not to commit on the subject while the courts are still weighing in.
Rice called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”
The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.
The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.
“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.
The NBA and players union praised the recommendations on enforcement and expressed concerns about youth basketball. On draft eligibility rules, however, there was no commitment.
“The NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.
The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.
“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.
The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.
Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans.
“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.
The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents , and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.
AAU AND SUMMER LEAGUES
The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer , the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.
The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.
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