In the wake of 10 arrests and an ongoing FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball recruiting, last October the NCAA assembled the Commission on College Basketball, an independent group asked to “fully examine critical aspects of Division I men’s basketball,” with a focus on three relationships in particular: the NCAA with “outside entities” like agents and apparel companies; the NCAA with the NBA; and the schools with the NCAA national office.
On Wednesday, the commission delivered its recommendations.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, chair of the commission, told the Associated Press, “We had to be bold in our recommendations.” But critics of the NCAA and its definition of “amateurism” will point only to the absence of the boldest suggestion possible, an idea that has gained steam in recent years as the debate has intensified: compensating college athletes in some way beyond an academic scholarship. The Commission made no mention of paying the players. In the estimation of Yahoo Sports college basketball writer Pete Thamel, the commission’s report was, “a big nothingburger.”
Former NBA star David Robinson, a member of the commission, hinted in an interview with Yahoo Finance last month that the group was unlikely to endorse paying players. “That’s something that’s been discussed,” he said. “But I think the thing is understanding [that] maybe the dialogue needs to change a little bit. The opportunity of being in college is the best time of our lives, it’s still an amazing opportunity… So how do we change that dialogue? The NCAA shouldn’t be the enemy of the athlete.”
Headline: There is nothing in here that recommends, calls for or even hints at compensating athletes directly for their athletic performance. If you expected otherwise you have not been paying attention. @TheAthleticCBB
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) April 25, 2018
Get rid of ‘one-and-done’
The commission’s biggest call for change is to end “one-and-done,” the practice of high school stars enrolling in top college programs for a single year, only to drop out and enter the NBA Draft.
The commission exhorted the NBA and NBA Players Association to make 18-year-olds eligible for the NBA draft (they are currently not eligible), so that high school players can go straight to the NBA, rather than going to college simply to stall for one more year. (Even though the commission’s report is directed at the NCAA, it is only the NBA that has the power to do this.)
And the commission issued a threat if the NBA and NBPA do not act by the end of 2018: “In that circumstance, the Commission will reconvene and consider the other tools at its disposal,” including freshman ineligibility.
“The one-and-done regime may have provided some benefits for the NBA and the NCAA in the past, but all stakeholders agree that the downsides now outweigh any benefits,” the commission wrote. “One-and-done has played a significant role in corrupting and destabilizing college basketball, restricting the freedom of choice of players, and undermining the relationship of college basketball to the mission of higher education. Elite high school players with NBA prospects and no interest in a college degree should not be ‘forced’ to attend college, often for less than a year.”
Furthermore, the commission suggested that players should be allowed to “test their professional prospects and maintain eligibility if they do not sign a professional contract.”
More scrutiny of Nike, Adidas, Under Armour
The commission also urged changes that have big sports business implications: set up an organized program for players to meet with NCAA-certified agents starting in high school, so as to “receive meaningful assessment of professional prospects” earlier on, but without actually signing; and increase transparency and scrutiny on apparel companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour and their relationships with schools and contact with players. (Two Adidas marketing execs are at the center of the ongoing bribery probe for conspiring to pay prospects to commit to the University of Louisville.)
“These uniquely talented elite players are the focus of agents, apparel companies, investment advisors, college coaches and others seeking to profit from their skills,” Rice said in her remarks.
Indeed, there is an irony to the timing of today’s report: it comes just one day before the 2018 NFL Draft, when those same apparel companies will watch eagerly to decide which new rookies they may want to sign, and have already signed some of the hottest players the second they graduated and became eligible.