The urge is to argue that the NCAA doesn’t get it.
And that would be the biggest mistake to argue. The NCAA gets it.
NCAA president Mark Emmert got it Wednesday when he said in a joint statement, “We delivered on a promise made just months ago to make profound and meaningful changes to college basketball.”
UConn president Susan Herbst, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors, got it when she emailed, “This year of work has been very productive. I agree fully with the BOG-D1 statement released today. I don’t see UConn as specially/idiosyncratically affected.”
Of course, the NCAA gets it. The NCAA has made it abundantly clear it will do everything in its power to cling to its version of amateurism. If anything, in announcing its new process for investigations and adjudicating complex cases, the NCAA made itself bigger and badder in enforcing its core mission to make billions, give as little as possible to student labor and, oh yes, educate our athletes.
Yes, we get it, too.
Give the powers of the NCAA credit on this count. They’ve watched helplessly as the Power 5 conference’s monopoly corrals the football money. Yet just when it looked like they may be fraying, dang, they starched their shirts and stiffened their basketball backbone in bold fashion.
An Olympic model that would allow college athletes to cash in on their likeness in commercials, with apparel, etc.? A serious, progressive move that would allow capitalism to find its level while allowing all scholarship athletes to continue with tuition, room and board and a stipend? Forget it. That would cut into the millions in sneaker money on the other end. Can’t have that.
Sure, some things will be thrown overboard periodically to keep the Good Ship Shamateurism afloat. And, yes, some of those basketball decisions announced Wednesday to great fanfare not only are well-meaning, they are serviceable, even if long overdue.
Allowing players who had been invited to the NBA combine to return to school if they go undrafted? Good. OK, that’ll affect a handful of players. And it comes close to matching the UConn, Yale and Quinnipiac hockey players who long have played in college after being drafted by the NHL. What else?
Schools are mandated to pay for the completion of scholarship basketball players’ first degree if they attended at least two years, left eligible and return within 10 years? And there will be a fund to help financially strapped D1 schools with this? Good. Should have been done a long time ago.
The federal indictments that rocked college basketball last September demanded action and, from the start, Emmert made it clear there would be. After all, we can’t have the FBI sticking its nose in the business of college athletics and finding sneaker executives, assistant coaches and financial advisors scheming for huge payoffs.
So we had Condoleezza Rice’s commission make its recommendations in April and the final approval Wednesday by the NCAA Board of Governors and the Division 1 Board of Directors. In a conference call, Emmert said the changes were aimed at “eliminating some of the corrosive influences” in college basketball.” Love that kind of talk. Gets me all tingly.
“At the same time,” Emmert said, “do it in a way that provides student-athletes with much more flexibility and freedom about their decisions.”
And that’s when the eyes grow jaundice. A prospect will be able to take as many as 15 official visits, up from five, paid by the schools. C’mon, you don’t need 15. Kids will be loading up on Florida and SoCal visits. That smells of a tradeoff of a fun recruiting weekend to avoid any real recompense for future labor.
The restructuring of the recruiting calendar, in theory, is a decent one. Increase the number of high school-sponsored events and limit the apparel-sponsored ones. (After some coaching blowback, the Nike Peach Jam is safe). In practice, though, putting on all the prospective regional camps isn’t easy. The high-profile sneaker tournaments are well run and do give less heralded players real visibility. Yet this is what really worries me: How sure are we that young, low-paid high school coaches are going to be exponentially more honest and any more immune from payoffs than AAU coaches?
Just when you start wondering if the NCAA has vetted all this, yikes. College players can now be represented by certified agents after the season. Fine. But Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN quickly reported USA Basketball and the NBA were blindsided the NCAA announcement that when the NBA/NBPA agrees to drop the one-and-done model and accepts 18-year-olds out of high school, those kids can sign with an NCAA-certified agent the summer before their senior year — as long as they’re identified as an elite prospect by USA Basketball. First, although signs certainly point to it happening, the one-and-done hasn’t been dropped by the NBA/NBPA and the draft rule won’t be in place until 2021 at the earliest. By Thursday, some of the signals were clearing and the NCAA, NBA and USA Basketball collectively working on “elite” players. Still, the NCAA got out over its skis there.
Yet what stands out most from Wednesday isn’t the “elite” faux pas, it’s the way the NCAA broke out the hammer. Not the hammer of change, the hammer to pound out the status quo.
The NCAA is looking at enforcing stiffer penalties and bans for offenders. Coaches and their staff most now report any income over $600 outside the school. That points to the apparel companies, obviously, and the NCAA is pushing for more transparency from them. Of course, when the sneaker giants are practically funding the college athletics complex, let’s see how controlling them goes.
The NCAA has long bemoaned its lack of subpoena power. Well, the NCAA now will allow accept findings from courts, government agencies, etc., to use as evidence in pursuing cases. There now will be two “independent” groups for investigating and then reviewing and deciding on penalties. University presidents will be contractually obligated to cooperate with investigators and in reporting violations. In other words, they’re on the hook, too, and you have wonder how that would have played out in the Kevin Ollie just cause firing?
There is more at the NCAA’s disposal to go after offenders now. Yet on a day when the NCAA didn’t even mention the massive North Carolina academic fraud, you wonder how they’ll use the new hammer. Bashing a big-time coach? OK. Bashing a big-time school? Hmm.
But allowing student labor to enjoy some of the billion-dollar fruits of Nike, Under Armour and Adidas loom? Looks like that will take a few more scandals. Get it?