The NCAA’s much-ballyhooed commission on college basketball reform, the one appointed by NCAA President Mark Emmert last fall in the wake of the FBI arrests and revelations about the sport, delivered its report Wednesday.
Seven months of work by the 14-member commission chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice produced a 60-page report and a news conference.
Reading the highlights of the report, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.
Let’s start with the laughs.
The commission basically blew off any notion of paying players in any form. This is hardly a surprise because Emmert, who is paid by the NCAA presidents to defend their notion of “amateurism,” was on the commission.
According to the report, “The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league.”
The next line should read: “We’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”
Don’t turn college basketball into another professional league? Seriously?
We’re talking about a sport with a tournament that rakes in billions in TV rights fees and corporate sponsorships every year. We’re talking about a tournament in which a player was stopped walking into an arena for a closed practice and told he couldn’t bring the water bottle he was carrying inside because it had the wrong corporate logo. We’re talking about a business in which coaches are routinely paid seven-figure annual salaries and multimillions are spent each year to woo players to their colleges — not so much to be students as to be athletes who are worth millions to the school.
Not a professional league? Wow.
Then there’s Rice’s comment to the Associated Press on Tuesday night: “We had to be bold in our recommendations.”
Bold? You decide.
End the one-and-done. Really? No one has brought that up before. Actually, no one hasn’t brought that up before. I believe the Dalai Lama was quoted recently as saying the one-and-done is an affront to mankind.
Allow players to return to school if they aren’t chosen after declaring for the NBA draft. Similar rules already exist in both baseball and hockey and are clearly much fairer to the players. Good luck getting the rule changed. Coaches will scream that they can’t possibly recruit if they don’t know for sure who is and who is not coming back. They already hate the rule that allows players to test the draft waters before deciding whether to stay or go.
Crack down on cheaters. Wonderful notion. The committee suggests that a school convicted of major violations be given five years of sanctions. See how that flies when the NCAA tells its TV “partners” that big-time schools (read: those that draw big ratings) could be out of the tournament for five years if caught cheating. Fact is, the rules already allow for more serious sanctions. The NCAA never invokes them.
Ban coaches for life for major violations. Again, that’s already on the books because a “show-cause” penalty (meaning a school that hires that coach takes on the penalties placed on him) can more or less take a coach out of the college business if it’s long enough. If you make the ban for life, I doubt it will make coaches pause for a second when they stand to make millions of dollars long before they get caught.
Take control of summer basketball. The NCAA has been trying to do this for years. At one point, the notion was that college coaches would not be allowed to recruit at a summer camp unless that camp was sanctioned by the NCAA. Of course the shoe companies fund the summer camps, fund most college programs and fund the AAU teams who play in the summer camps. Do you think any of their camps were denied sanctions?
Require more transparency from shoe companies in regard to their relationships with schools, coaches and athletes. To quote from the iconic book, “Ball Four,” “Yeah . . . sure.”
Allow athletes to have contact with agents sooner rather than later. This is a well intended but flawed idea. Their contact should be with former agents, preferably ones caught cheating and with media members who have outed agents as cheaters. That way, the athletes might learn what to be on the look out for when it comes to agents.
In short, this is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” report. It will be talked up by presidents and commissioners, athletic directors and TV talking heads. It will accomplish next to nothing because the suggestions are either recycled or impractical.
The biggest problem with the commission, sadly, was who was on it. The 14 members are honorable people who want what is best for college basketball. But if you are trying to prevent crime, you don’t go to people leading honorable lives to figure out what to do and how to do it. You go to criminals because they know how it’s done. That’s why cops turn criminals into confidential informants.
Sonny Vaccaro, who invented the art of paying coaches and schools and delivering star players to those schools when he worked at Nike, should have been on this commission. So should Rick Pitino, who knows the good, the bad and the ugly of recruiting as well as anyone. There should have been a couple of crooked agents on the committee and — forgive me — at least one member of the print media because many of us know more about who cheats and why and how than any commission member.
In 1981, I was sent to cover what was being called “the reform convention” because the college presidents were unveiling a package of new rules and reforms that were going to stop all the ongoing scandals. They all passed. Nothing changed.
In 1989, the Knight Commission was formed to help bring about reform in college athletics. Nothing has changed, except that things have gotten worse. A few years ago, I got a call from someone who had just been appointed to the Knight Commission.
“I really don’t know anything about sports,” she said. “Do you think you can help me out?”
In 2003, then-Stanford coach Mike Montgomery (who was also on this commission) called a meeting of all Division I coaches to discuss the profession’s reputation, which was in tatters in the wake of former Baylor coach Dave Bliss’s attempts to smear the reputation of one of his players who had been murdered by another.
Former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. had been brought in by Montgomery to talk to the coaches about how to be competitive without resorting to cheating.
Ritchie McKay, then the coach at New Mexico and one of the most religiously devout in the business, stood up and asked Thompson, “Coach, don’t you think the first thing we all need to do is try to improve our relationships with Jesus Christ?”
Thompson paused for a moment, then replied, “I think the first thing y’all [expletive] need to do is quit cheating!”
John Thompson III was on the Rice committee. All due respect to the son, but the father would have been a better choice.
If you want bold, John Thompson Jr. will give you bold. There was nothing bold and almost nothing new in this report.
The next reform convention or commission or meeting is no doubt a few years down the road. Until the presidents decide to truly crack down on cheaters — with a simple set of rules and the death penalty for those who break them — none of those so eloquently described by Thompson will see any reason to behave any differently.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.