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College basketball commission calls for rules changes, but sticks with amateurism

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks during a news conference at the NCAA headquarters Wednesday.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks during a news conference at the NCAA headquarters Wednesday. (Darron Cummings/AP)

In an effort to solve the “crisis of accountability” in college basketball, a commission chaired by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday issued substantive, far-reaching recommendations that called for tougher penalties for NCAA rules violations, financial transparency by apparel companies and an end to the NBA’s “one-and-done” rule.

 But the panel did not recommend that athletes be paid, staunchly affirming the values of amateurism and an education for the 98.8 percent of college basketball players who do not go on to NBA careers. While it called for a fresh look at whether athletes should be able to earn money from the marketing of their name, image or likeness, the panel noted that the NCAA should not — and, in fact, could not — act until the courts resolve the issue via pending legal cases.

“For the good of all involved, we need to put the ‘college’ back in college basketball,” Rice said in releasing the recommendations at the NCAA’s Indianapolis headquarters.

The 14-member Commission on College Basketball was created in October by NCAA President Mark Emmert in response to a federal investigation into bribery and fraud in the sport. The FBI probe, which is ongoing, led to the arrests of 10 men, including assistant coaches at four schools, on fraud and bribery charges for improper payments to steer top recruits to preferred agents and financial advisers. It found that Adidas officials were offering six-figure payments to get top recruits to Adidas-sponsored teams and that coaches accepted five-figure bribes to steer college players to preferred agents and financial advisers.

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The relationship between shoe companies and college basketball has long bedeviled NCAA and college officials. In their quests to gain advantages on signing NBA prospects, Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all sponsor extensive grass-roots leagues for teenagers across the country. And observers of the game have wondered whether there is a quid-pro-quo in cases in which Nike’s grass-roots stars sign with Nike-sponsored college teams and top Adidas grass-roots stars sign with Adidas-sponsored college teams.

Said Emmert in announcing the creation of the commission: “This is not the time for half-measures or incremental change.”

With members of the panel seated on either side, Rice called on every stakeholder in college basketball — coaches, athletic directors, university presidents, boards of trustees, the NCAA, apparel companies, athletes and their parents — to “accept their culpability in getting us to where we are today.” And where we are, Rice made plain at the outset, is a “crisis.”

Rice explained Wednesday that the goal in calling on the NBA to end its “one-and-done” rule and make 18-year-olds eligible for the NBA draft was to separate athletes who are on the “college track” from those elite players who aspire only to an NBA career. The downside of essentially “forcing” the latter group to enroll in college for one year or less, she said, outweighed the good.

In response to the recommendation, the NBA and NBA Players Association issued a joint statement reading, in part, “We support NCAA policy and enforcement reforms that will better safeguard the well-being of players while imposing greater accountability on representatives and programs that fail to uphold the values of the game. We also share the Commission’s concern with the current state of youth basketball and echo that all stakeholders — including the NBA, NBPA, NCAA, and USA Basketball — have a collective responsibility to help bring about positive change. Regarding the NBA’s draft eligibility rules, the NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game.”

If the NBA declines to abandon one-and-done, Rice said, the panel will reconvene and consider ending freshman eligibility.

Breaking down the NCAA basketball report: The key word is ‘recommendations’

The panel also called on the NCAA to let underclassmen test their chances in the NBA draft without losing their college eligibility. If they’re not drafted, they would be able to return to school and continue playing college basketball.

It further recommended the NCAA allow certified agents to talk with players during their high school years to give them a realistic sense of their professional prospects before they made the decision to enroll in college. Such contact is prohibited.

“The commission believes student athletes must have the information they need to understand their real choices and be better positioned to take advantage of either the collegiate or professional path they choose,” Rice said. “If NCAA rules do not allow them to receive that advice openly, they often will seek it illicitly.”

But the panel consistently rejected remedies that would “professionalize” the sport.

Rice noted that 1.2 percent of college basketball players go on to play in the NBA, where the average career is 4.5 years. “The college degree is the real ticket to financial security,” Rice said.

To that end, the panel called on the NCAA to require universities to pay for the cost for any scholarship athletes to complete their degrees if they earned at least two years of academic credit before leaving school. Some schools already do this; others don’t and would find it costly. But covering the expense, Rice’s panel concluded, would “restore credibility to the phrase ‘student-athlete.’ ”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said he believes the commission “got a lot right” — particularly in calling for athletes to be able to confer with licensed agents and declare for the draft without losing their college eligibility. Bilas also favors the idea of an independent entity to investigate NCAA infractions, as well as the addition of outside professionals to the NCAA governing board to get away from the college sports “echo chamber” in which nothing ever changes.

But he was disappointed that the report didn’t tackle college basketball’s commercialization head on. College basketball is a multibillion dollar industry in which coaches and schools make millions from shoe companies, Bilas noted, but paying players — or providing them anything more than a cost-of-living stipend and chance at an education — is cast by the report as “morally wrong.”

“There are a lot of positive things, and if the NCAA adopts these recommendations, things can get better,” said Bilas, a lawyer and former Duke player. “But we’re still operating from a flawed premise. The Rice Commission doubled down on this idea that there is something called the college [amateur] model, and there isn’t one.”

In many respects, the panel found NCAA rules enforcement lacking.

“Bad behavior is too often ignored and inadequately punished,” Rice said, laying the groundwork for calls for stiffer NCAA penalties — including five-year postseason bans and the loss of all postseason revenue — for major rules violations.

The panel also recommended the NCAA create independent entities to investigate “high-stakes” cases of rule-breaking.

Read the full Commission on College Basketball report here

Rice said that much of the corruption the panel examined had its roots in the burgeoning youth basketball market, which she characterized as an “ungoverned space.” Some programs are ethical; others are not, she noted.

In response, the panel urges the NCAA to certify specific youth basketball events that college coaches may attend, demanding that financial transparency of the youth programs be among the criteria for certification.

It called for full disclosure of spending on youth basketball by apparel companies, such as Adidas, Nike and Under Armour.

“Adidas welcomes the Commission’s recommendations and will continue to work with the NCAA and other stakeholders in a collaborative and constructive manner,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “We share the Commission’s desire to improve the environment in which we and other apparel companies engage with college and non-scholastic basketball.”

And it called for the NCAA to join with the NBA and USA Basketball to create a new youth basketball program by 2019 that would have as its centerpiece tournaments and events each July that would be the sole events college basketball recruiters could attend.

Turning to the NCAA, Rice noted that its current structure “isn’t working” and called for five independent, public members with voting rights to be added to the NCAA’s board of directors.

The 14-member commission included former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, former NBA stars Grant Hill and David Robinson, former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, former Florida AD Jeremy Foley and retired U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is chairman of USA Basketball.

Just hours after Rice’s news conference, the NCAA board of directors unanimously endorsed her recommendations. Rice’s proposals, the NCAA said, “will profoundly alter the college basketball landscape.”

“This is about more than basketball. This is about the culture and future of college sports,” Emmert and two other NCAA officials wrote in a joint statement. “We all will work together to get it right.”

While Emmert and the NCAA lauded the commission’s work, the National College Players Association — a nonprofit that represents the interests of college athletes — panned the results as a failure.

“These recommendations won’t solve the real problem: immoral and illegal NCAA rules that deny player compensation,” Ramogi Huma, executive director of the NCPA and a former UCLA football player, wrote in a statement. “There were plenty of scandals both before and after ‘one-and-done’ became a common practice. . . . NCAA violations will continue until player compensation is addressed.”

Read more coverage:

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